US eyes new military bases in Saudi Arabia amid rising tensions with Iran
The US military is expanding its military operations in Saudi Arabia amid heightened tensions with Iran, striking an initial agreement with the kingdom to use a Red Sea port and an additional two airfields in the country, Defense One reported.
Officials with US Central Command (CENTCOM) did not confirm the agreement on Tuesday, but described the developments as "contingency" planning, adding that the military had already conducted test runs at Yanbu port, some 100km west of the holy city of Medina.
The military said it was examining King Faisal air base in Tabuk, which sits around 50km south of the kingdom's border with Jordan, and King Fahd air base in Taif, which is around 60km east of Mecca.
General Frank McKenzie told reporters travelling with him on Monday that the three new locations would be able to easily transport troops in and out of the region in a potential conflict with Iran.
"The Arabian Gulf would be contested waters under any scenario of armed conflict with Iran, so you look at the places where you would move your forces as they enter the theater from being in a contested area," McKenzie said, according to Defense One.
"What it does is it gives us options and options are always a good thing for a commander to have."
Saudi officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Washington has long kept an array of military assets in Gulf countries, including its headquarters for Centcom in Qatar, which oversees all US forces in the Middle East.
Former US President Donald Trump deployed troops in Saudi Arabia for the first time since the 9/11 attacks in late 2019 after attacks on two oil facilities that were blamed on Iran.
Around 2,500 US troops are stationed at Prince Sultan air base southeast of Riyadh, where they man fighter jets and Patriot missile batteries.
"These are prudent military planning measures that allow for temporary or conditional access of facilities in the event of a contingency, and are not provocative in any way," Centcom spokesman Bill Urban said on Tuesday.
"Nor are they an expansion of the US footprint in the region, in general, or in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in particular."
The plan comes as the Biden administration has said it would take a more cautious approach with the kingdom, and emphasised it would also seek a return to the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump abandoned in 2018.
Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran's United Nations mission, criticised the developments, calling the presence of American troops in the region "one of the main reasons for the chaotic situation and insecurity in our region".
"Any 'contingency for conflict' with Iran would only make sense if another country intended to attack Iran and we are determined to defend ourselves if attacked," Miryousefi said.