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Pentagon withdrawing large portion of missile defense systems from Middle East says report

U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis arrives at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s residence, New Delhi, India, Sept. 6, 2018. (Lisa Ferdinando/Department of Defense)
September 27, 2018

The Pentagon has announced plans for removing defense systems from some Middle Eastern countries next month.

Several military officials confirmed anonymously that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has made the decision to withdraw four Patriot missile systems next month from Jordan, Kuwait, and Bahrain, according to an exclusive Wall Street Journal report on Wednesday.

The transfer of the systems is part of a larger effort to reposition military forces as threats have shifted. Threats from China and Russia have become a higher priority, while threats from the Middle East and Afghanistan have declined.

The missile systems will be shut down and moved next month. Two will come from Kuwait, with the other two from Jordan and Bahrain. They will be transported to the U.S. where they will undergo maintenance and upgrades.

Some Patriot missile systems remain in the Middle East, although the removal of four systems is reportedly a “major drawdown” of their remaining defense capabilities.

The missile systems are designed for defensive use to shoot down aircraft in a radius of dozens of miles near their position. They also have offensive capabilities, however.

The U.S. military retains a large navy base in Bahrain, as well as the Fifth Fleet which is assigned to the Middle East and Persian Gulf region. Thousands of U.S. forces remain stationed in Kuwait, along with forces in Jordan.

The U.S. Central Command would not provide details on the rationale behind moving the missile systems.

“Due to operational security concerns, we’re not going to discuss the movement of specific capabilities into and out of the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility,” said Capt. Bill Urban, a Tampa, Fla.-based spokesperson for the command.

“U.S. Central Command is strongly committed to working with our allies and partners to promote and provide regional security and stability. U.S. Forces remain postured to conduct operations throughout the region and to respond to any contingency,” Urban added.

KUNA, a Kuwait state-run news agency, said the Kuwait government called the missile systems’ removal “merely an interior routine procedure,” and said plans were made in coordination with their government.

Mattis announced a new National Defense Strategy in Jan. 2018 which outline a new strategy to counter threats from China and Russia.  “We will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we’re engaged in today,” Mattis said, according to Politico. “Great power competition — not terrorism — is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.