US to bolster Saudi defense against Iranians with troops, jets
WASHINGTON — The U.S. is deploying dozens more fighter jets and additional air defenses to Saudi Arabia, beefing up efforts to defend the kingdom against Iran even as President Donald Trump repeatedly insists that America must get out of endless Middle East wars.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced the deployments Friday just hours after Iran said two missiles struck one of its oil tankers traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Saudi Arabia.
The Pentagon moves are part of a broader response to the suspected Iranian missile and drone attack on Saudi oil facilities Sept. 14.
The heightened tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have led the U.S. to pour about 14,000 more U.S. troops into the region since May, including additional ships to maintain maritime security in the Persian Gulf area.
The decision underscores the complexities of America’s Middle East policies that struggle to align Trump’s stated desire to pull troops out of the region with what have been persistent threats from Iran and a volatile military operation against Islamic State militants in Syria.
Esper said the decision followed discussions with the Saudi minister of defense about the country’s defensive capabilities.
“Saudi Arabia is a long-standing security partner in the Middle East and has asked for additional support to supplement their own defense and defend the international rulesbased order,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.
In the latest deployment, the U.S. will send two fighter jet squadrons, a unit of other support aircraft, two Patriot missile batteries and one anti-missile defense system known as THAAD. U.S. officials said this new deployment involves about 1,800 service members.
Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. meets Saudi officers during his visit in July at a base in al-Kharj, Saudi Arabia.