During the last few weeks, the U.S. has removed its most advanced air defense system, the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system, as well as Patriot missile batteries from Saudi Arabia. Spokesmen for the Pentagon and the Saudi Defense Ministry confirmed the removal of the air defense systems.
AP reported that the systems had been deployed at the Prince Sultan Air Base outside of Riyadh. Satellite images seen by AP in August showed that several batteries had been removed, but troops and vehicles could still be seen there. But images taken on Friday by satellite imagery company Planet Labs showed that the area of the air base where the systems were previously located is now empty, and there is no activity of any kind.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged "the redeployment of certain air defense assets", but said that the U.S. maintains a "broad and deep" commitment to its Mideast allies. He added that "The Defense Department continues to maintain tens of thousands of forces and a robust force posture in the Middle East representing some of our most advanced air power and maritime capabilities, in support of U.S. national interests and our regional partnerships."
In response to an AP request for comment, the Saudi Defense Ministry said in a statement that "The redeployment of some defense capabilities of the friendly United States of America from the region is carried out through common understanding and realignment of defense strategies."
But there are those in Saudi Arabia who think differently. Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of Saudi intelligence who is known as being close to the royal family, said in a recent interview by CNBC that "I think we need to be reassured about American commitment. That looks like, for example, not withdrawing Patriot missiles from Saudi Arabia at a time when Saudi Arabia is the victim of missile attacks and drone attacks — not just from Yemen, but from Iran."