Biden to withdraw 'hundreds of troops from Middle East' as focus becomes China and Russia, says US officials

Biden to withdraw 'hundreds of troops from Middle East' as focus becomes China and Russia, says US officials
The Biden administrration is set to reduce the number of US troops in the Middle East, in part fulfilling campaign promises and realigning the country's focus to China and Russia.
3 min read
18 June, 2021
The US has already begun the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and Iraq [Getty]

The United States is set to radically reduce weapons systems and troops in the Middle East, mostly in Saudi Arabia, as it refocuses its attention to potential threats from China and Russia, an official has revealed.

It is believed Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and revealed the changes during a phone call.

Eight Patriot antimissile batteries will be removed from Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, according to officials who have spoken to The Wall Street Journal, and the well-known Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad), is being withdrawn from Saudi Arabia.

Military personnel assigned to fighter jets and other military equipment will also be reduced, the official added.

The Patriot antimissile systems were moved to Iraq in January 2020 after Iran fired missiles at an airbase where US troops were stationed, and also sent the missiles and the Thaad system to Saudi Arabia after Iran allegedly targeted an oil facility in the kingdom.

Officials said the military equipment in the region hasn’t deterred Iran or its proxies from attacking US targets in the region.

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“What you’re seeing is a realignment of resources with strategic priorities,” said a senior defense official.

“We still maintain tens of thousands of forces in the region, we still have forces in Iraq and Syria, those forces aren’t leaving. We still have our bases in the countries of our Gulf partners, they aren’t shutting down, there is still substantial presence, substantial posture in the region,” the official said.

The move is in line with US President Joe Biden’s plans to reduce US presence in the Middle East, which has been met with concern.

The United Nations is planning for a possible increase in violence in Afghanistan when US troops withdraw after two decades, the global body's refugee chief said.

Filippo Grandi told AFP in an interview that he understood that international military operations like the one in Afghanistan "cannot be sustained forever".

But, he warned, "the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and other troops as well is another indicator that violence may rise after that", he said.

"We are making plans for it."

The Taliban have made huge gains across Afghanistan as the United States prepares to pull out the last of its troops from the country by September after 20 years of war - even as peace talks between the Afghan government and the Islamist group have stalled.

Analysts also fear a descent into civil war if Kabul is left to face the Taliban alone.

The situation is already dire, with some 2.6 million Afghans living abroad as refugees at the end of 2020, according to latest UN figures.