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US to deploy troops to Saudi Arabia as Gulf tensions soar

Published: July 20, 2019
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Source: aljazeera.com

The United States has authorised the deployment of military personnel and resources to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon has said, as tensions in the Gulf mount over the US's standoff with Iran, the kingdom's archrival.

The Pentagon said in a statement on Friday that the move would provide "an additional deterrent" in the face of "emergent, credible threats" in the region.

The statement on Friday came after Saudi Arabia's defence ministry confirmed that the kingdom would host US forces to boost regional security and stability.

"Based on mutual cooperation between Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, and their desire to enhance everything that could preserve the security of the region and its stability ... King Salman gave his approval to host American forces," a ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by Saudi state news agency SPA.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the deployment would include about 500 military personnel and is part of a boost in the number of US troops in the Middle East that the Pentagon announced last month.

The US military also said it had patrol aircraft monitoring the Strait of Hormuz, and was developing a "multinational maritime effort" to ensure freedom of navigation in key Middle East waterways.

In June, acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said he had authorised the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were "defensive purposes", citing concerns about a threat from Iran. The Pentagon did not say where the troops would be deployed at the time.

In response to attacks on four other tankers on May 12, US officials announced plans to send 900 more forces - including engineers and a fighter aircraft squadron - to the Middle East to bolster US defence, as well as extend the deployment of some 600 personnel manning Patriot missiles.

Washington also sent warships and a Patriot missile defence battery to the region, citing unspecified threats from Iran. 

US military presence in Saudi Arabia started during the 1991 Gulf War and lasted 12 years. Until the US military withdrew from the kingdom in 2003, US aircraft were stationed at the Prince Sultan airbase, around 80km south of the capital, Riyadh. 

Gulf tensions

Tensions in the Gulf increased further on Friday after Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said its forces captured a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz for allegedly violating international laws.

The British-flagged, Swedish-owned Stena Impero was carrying 23 crew members at the time of its capture, according to the company.

The British Foreign Office confirmed a second naval vessel, the Liberian-flagged Mesdar, had been seized in the Strait of Hormuz by Iranian authorities.

Iran's semi-official news agency, Fars, reported that Mesdar was briefly held in the Strait of Hormuz and given a notice to comply with environmental regulations before being allowed to continue on its way.

The incidents came as US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that a US Navy ship had "destroyed" an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz after it threatened the vessel, a claim Iran promptly denied. 

Friction between the US and Iran has worsened since Trump unilaterally withdrew Washington from an historic nuclear deal signed in 2015 between Tehran and world powers and reimposed sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Last month, Iran downed a US surveillance drone that it said had violated Iranian airspace. The US said the drone had been over international waters.

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