The US has removed its most advanced missile defense system and Patriot battery from Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, even as the kingdom faced relentless airstrikes from Yemen’s Houthi rebels, The Associated Press shows Analyzed satellite photos.

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Security forces deployed from Prince Sultan Air Base outside Riyadh came as US Gulf Arab allies panicked Chaotic withdrawal of US troops from AfghanistanIncluding his last-minute evacuation from Kabul’s besieged international airport.

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While tens of thousands of US forces remain in the Arabian Peninsula across Iran, the Gulf Arab nation is concerned about America’s future plans as its forces perceive a growing threat in Asia that requires those missile defenses. Tensions are high as talks stalled in Vienna over Iran’s collapsed nuclear deal with world powers, raising the risk of future conflicts in the region.

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“Perceptions matter whether or not they are rooted in cold, cold reality. And the belief is very clear that America is not as committed to the Gulf as it used to be in the views of many in decision-making authority. Rice University Kristian Ulrichson, research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

“From the Saudi perspective, they now make decisions that indicate some degree of abandonment, with Obama, Trump and Biden – three successive presidents -.”

Prince Sultan Air Base, approximately 115 kilometers (70 mi) southeast of Riyadh, Has hosted several thousand US troops Since the 2019 missile-and-drone attack on the center of the state’s oil production. That attack, although claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, It appears to have been done by Iran, according to experts and the physical debris left behind. Tehran has denied launching the attack. Although Iranian paramilitary forces used a similar drone in a drill in January.

Just southwest of the air base’s runway, a 1 square kilometer (third of a square mile) area was established by a mud berm, which contained the US Army Station Patriot Missile Battery, as well as an Advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense. Was seen. unit, according to satellite images from Planet Labs Inc. A THAAD can destroy ballistic missiles at a higher altitude than the Patriots.

A satellite image seen by the AP in late August showed some batteries removed from the area, although activity and vehicles could still be seen there. A high-resolution Planet Lab satellite image taken Friday showed the battery pads at the site empty, with no visible activity.

Rumors of redistribution of missiles had been going on for months, in part due to a desire to counter US officials see the conflict with China and Russia as a “great power struggle”. However, the evacuation came in the form of just Eight people were injured and a commercial jetliner damaged in a Houthi drone attack on Saudi Arabia At the state airport in Abha. The state has been locked in a standoff war with the Houthis since March 2015.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby acknowledged “the redeployment of certain air defense assets” after receiving questions from the AP. He said the US maintained a “broad and deep” commitment to its Middle East allies.

“The Department of Defense continues to maintain a strong force posture and thousands of forces representing some of our most advanced air power and maritime capabilities in the Middle East in support of America’s national interests and our regional partnership,” Kirby said.

In a statement to the AP, the Saudi Defense Ministry described the kingdom’s ties with the US as “strong, long-standing and historic” while acknowledging the withdrawal of US missile defense systems. It said the Saudi military is “capable of defending its land, sea and airspace and protecting its people.”

“The redistribution of some of the defense capabilities of a friendly United States from this region is characterized by operational deployment and disposition through common understanding and restructuring of defense strategies,” the statement said.

Despite those assurances, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, the kingdom’s former intelligence chief, whose public commentary often tracks with the views of its al Saud ruling family, has linked the Patriot missile deployment directly to America’s ties to Riyadh. .

“I think we need to be convinced of the American commitment,” Rajkumar told CNBC in an interview that aired this week. “It seems, for example, not to withdraw Patriot missiles from Saudi Arabia when Saudi Arabia is the victim of missile strikes and drone strikes – not just from Yemen, but from Iran.”

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, on a tour of the Middle East in recent days, was due to fly to Saudi Arabia but canceled the trip due to what US officials referred to as scheduling problems. Saudi Arabia declined to discuss why the visit to Austin did not take place after missile protection was withdrawn.

Saudi Arabia maintains its Patriot missile battery and usually fires two missiles at an incoming target. This has become an expensive proposition among the Houthi campaign, as each Patriot missile costs more than $3 million. The state also claims to have intercepted almost every missile and drone launched in the state, An incredibly high success rate that has previously been questioned by experts.

While Greece agreed to lend a Patriot missile battery to Saudi Arabia in April, the timing of the US withdrawal comes amid widespread uncertainty over the US currency in the region. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab countries have renewed diplomacy with Iran as a defense.

“I think we saw in Biden’s statements on Afghanistan, the way he said things that he’s clearly going to put American interests first and obviously that’s going to be great for partners and allies around the world. Came in as a disappointment to those who might have been expecting something different after Trump.” Research Fellow Ulrichson said. “That sounds very similar to an ‘America First’ approach, just like a different tone.”