US Inexplicably Pulls Patriot Missiles Out of Saudi Arabia Amid Houthi Missile and Drone Attacks
10:29 GMT 11.09.2021 (Updated: 10:58 GMT 05.03.2023)
The Gulf sheikdom has spent years facing a stream of missile and drone attacks carried out by Yemen’s Houthi militia, with the militants beginning the strikes in the aftermath of the Saudi-led coalition’s incursion into the southern Gulf state in March 2015 to try to restore its ousted government.
The United States has removed a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system and multiple Patriot missile batteries from Saudi Arabia, The Associated Press reports, citing an analysis of satellite photos by a private earth imaging company.
According to the news agency, satellite snaps by Planet Labs show that the air and missile defence systems have been removed from a runway at the Prince Sultan Air Base, a military facility situated about 115 km outside Riyadh.
The advanced air defence equipment and several thousand US troops were deployed in Saudi Arabia in late 2019, in the wake of the devastating drone attacks on a pair of oil processing facilities in the Kingdom’s east, which temporarily knocked out half of the country’s oil production.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby confirmed that “the redeployment of certain air defence assets” in Saudi Arabia had taken place, but did not provide any further details, including what specific systems were removed or where they were sent.
The Saudi Defence Ministry brushed off the significance of the redeployment, hailing Riyadh’s “strong, longstanding and historic” ties with Washington and insisting that the sheikdom’s military was “capable of defending its lands, seas and airspace, and protecting its people” independently.
However, earlier this week, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, told CNBC that Riyadh was looking to the US to demonstrate its “commitment” to the Gulf nation, including by “not withdrawing Patriot missiles from Saudi Arabia at a time when Saudi Arabia is the victim of missile attacks and drone attacks – not just from Yemen, but from Iran.”
Riyadh has repeatedly accused Iran of involvement in the 2019 drone attacks on its oil processing infrastructure. The Islamic Republic vocally denied any role in the strikes, while the Houthis claimed responsibility, insisted they carried them out independently and warned that further strikes would be incoming if Saudi forces did not leave their country.
The news of the suspected removal of American air defence systems comes in the wake of US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin’s inexplicable decision Wednesday to “indefinitely” postpone his visit to Saudi Arabia, with the Pentagon citing “scheduling issues” and saying Austin “looks forward to rescheduling at the soonest opportunity.”
Saudi Arabia is known to have its own stock of Patriot missile batteries, which it purchased in the mid-2000s. The country’s inventory is thought to consist of as many as 640 of the $3 million apiece missiles and an unknown number of launchers.
Saudi Arabia’s cities, military bases, energy production and processing facilities, airports, and other infrastructure are under constant threat of attack by Houthi ballistic missiles and small bomb-laden drones. The Houthis began their missile and drone attacks in the aftermath of the March 2015 Saudi-led incursion into the country to try to restore the toppled government of Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi fled Yemen in late 2014, settling in Riyadh and forming a Gulf state-backed government in exile.
29 August 2021, 08:08 GMT
Saudi Arabia floated a new peace initiative in March 2021, after the withdrawal of direct US military support for its Yemen war. The initiative included a nationwide ceasefire. The Houthis, a moderate Islamist and anti-Zionist political and militant movement, rejected the ceasefire idea, saying Riyadh must first lift its economic blockade against Yemeni ports and airports to help resolve the dire humanitarian situation in areas they control.
The United Nations has warned that Yemen is facing “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” and has estimated that nearly 21 million people are in need of protection or basic humanitarian assistance, including food aid. As many as 233,000 people have been killed in the Yemen conflict to date, both as a result of fighting and due to the humanitarian crisis caused by the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade.