After announcing last month that it would be sending 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East, the Pentagon revealed late Wednesday that 500 of those troops would be heading to the Prince Sultan Air Base, situated in the desert east of Riyadh. It’s the latest sign that the Trump Administration is continuing its military buildup in the region, which has so far included fighter jets, B-52 bombers, an aircraft carrier strike force, Navy destroyers and – of course – more troops.
Citing two senior defense officials, CNN reported that a small number of troops were already in the area, and initial preparations were being made for a Patriot missile defense battery as well as improvements to a runway and airfield. US security assessments have determined that the area would be ideal for US troop deployment because it would be difficult for Iran to target with missiles.
Satellite images obtained by CNN revealed the initial deployment to the air base in mid-June. Other images showed more preparations being made at the site earlier this month.
The deployment will strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia, which had been temporarily strained in the wake of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi as some lawmakers tried to prevent the US from selling arms to the kingdom, which has historically been one of the biggest purchasers of American arms. However, the Trump Administration is taking steps to expedite arms sales to the US’s Middle East allies, including Saudi Arabia.
However, the Pentagon has apparently dramatically scaled back plans to deploy 10,000 troops to the region to “monitor Iran”.
One of CNN’s sources said Congress has been given an informal heads up about the deployment, and would be formally notified next week.
Ultimately, the US hopes to be able to fly stealth, fifth-generation F-22 jets from the base.