WASHINGTON—The Biden administration is sharply reducing the number of U.S. antimissile systems in the Middle East in a major realignment of its military footprint there as it focuses the armed services on challenges from China and Russia, administration officials said.
The Pentagon is pulling approximately eight Patriot antimissile batteries from countries including Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, according to officials. Another antimissile system known as a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad system, is being withdrawn from Saudi Arabia, and jet fighter squadrons assigned to the region are being reduced, those officials said.
The accelerated withdrawals reflect several recent changes on the ground in the Middle East as well as Washington’s own strategic imperatives under the Biden administration. As the war in Afghanistan winds down, ending two decades of counterinsurgency as a chief driver of U.S. troop and weapons deployments, the Biden administration wants to bulk up forces directed at countering China, its chief rival in a national security landscape now defined by competition between the major powers.
Separately, the Biden administration’s policy toward Iran—the chief U.S. adversary in the Middle East—is focused on negotiations over re-entering a revised version of the 2015 international nuclear agreement. Because of that, Pentagon officials see a diminished risk of war after the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign employed more military brinkmanship.
U.S. allies in the region such as Saudi Arabia also have strengthened their own defenses in the face of attacks from Iranian-backed Houthi militias with which Saudi Arabia is fighting a protracted war in Yemen. And the Biden administration is seeking to move relations with Russia to a more manageable basis, allowing it to spend less time worrying about Russian cyberattacks and troop buildups, a chief goal of President Biden’s summit earlier this week with Russian President
The U.S. is also reducing its presence in Iraq, where it cut its force posture last year by half—or 2,500 troops—because officials determined Iraqi forces could secure the country.
The latest reductions, which haven’t been previously reported, began earlier this month, following a June 2 call in which Defense Secretary
informed Saudi Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman
of the changes, officials said. Most of the military hardware being removed is coming from Saudi Arabia, officials said.
The U.S. moved Patriot antimissile systems to Iraq after Iran in January 2020 fired missiles at the Al Asad base in western Iraq, where U.S. troops are stationed. The Iranian attack was a response to a U.S. drone attack that killed
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