The Wall Street Journal reported on April 1 that President Joe Biden has instructed the Pentagon to begin withdrawing some US military assets from the Persian Gulf region as part of an effort by the White House to “reorient the US global military presence away from the Middle East.” The author expresses hope that this information, published on the “fool’s day” of April 1, will not turn out to be just another joke, like the earlier announcement of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq…
This regrouping of US military assets comes, Washington explains, as Saudi Arabia increasingly faces missile and drone attacks from territories in Yemen and Iraq. In this case, through the lines of the WSJ report, it is clear that one of the reasons for such actions is actually punishing Saudi Arabia (or rather Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman) for being stubborn and unwilling to be fully accountable to the United States. And this, in particular, is confirmed by the words of the WSJ that “the United States is pushing for Saudi Arabia to take on the burden of defending its territory.” In addition, one should not forget that after taking office Joe Biden promised to “reformat” the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, took some “hard steps”, freezing in particular the sale of offensive weapons, which Riyadh used during the six-year military intervention in Yemen. The White House’s release of a US intelligence report stating that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 operation to eliminate journalist Jamal Khashoggi fits into the same context.
However, it is also quite obvious that the Biden administration was forced to withdraw US troops from the Middle East by growing anti-American sentiment, which in Syria and Iraq actually took the form of a guerrilla war against the US military presence.
Thus, on March 10 the International Committee of the Red Cross published the results of the sociological survey, conducted among 1,400 Syrians living in Syria, as well as in Lebanon and Germany, who confirmed their disagreement with the US policy in Syria and in the Middle East in general. In particular, the survey showed that one in two Syrians lost friends or family members in the armed conflict, and one in six Syrians had a parent killed or wounded. The US armed intervention has devastated Syria, with nearly 8 in 10 Syrians struggling to afford food and other basic necessities, according to an ICRC survey.
In the case of Syria, the growth of anti-American sentiment there is also a consequence of Washington’s systematic looting of not only historical artifacts, but also of that country’s other national treasures: Syrian oil and food. Thus, on March 23, as reported by the Syrian news agency SANA, the US military began to transport a convoy of 300 truckloads of stolen oil from the Syrian fields to Iraqi territory through the border crossing “Mahmoudia”, and in recent months there were dozens of such convoys of oil. In addition, only at the end of March, 38 trucks with Syrian wheat from stolen granaries in the village of Tal Alou in the province of Hasaka in northeastern Syria were taken by the US military to Iraqi territory, and a week earlier another 18 trucks of stolen grain from grain elevators across the border crossing Semalka.
Therefore, it is not surprising that in response to such illegal actions of the US military, there have recently been more and more reports about the shelling of US military bases in Syria and Iraq. At the end of March, reports in the Middle East news agencies stated that unknown persons fired rockets from mobile units against a US base in the province of Deir ez-Zor, in the area of hydrocarbon fields, which the US military controls together with Kurdish armed groups. Reports indicate that several US troops were wounded. Rocket attacks on US military positions in northeastern Syria occur almost regularly, clearly pushing the US out.
Similar actions against US servicemen took place in Iraq, where in late March in several cities in southern and central parts of the country there were blown up trucks with materials for the forces of the international coalition led by the US Department of Defense. Earlier, on October 10, 2020, the “Iraqi Resistance Front,” which includes several militia units, announced the possibility of a temporary “cessation of operations against foreign military forces, primarily American, to allow them to withdraw from the country.”
At the end of last year, there were about 50,000 US troops in permanent bases and temporary US strongholds in the Middle East, although, at the height of tensions between the Donald Trump administration and Iran about two years ago, there were about 90,000 troops. It is known that the US has already withdrawn three batteries of Patriot missile defense systems from the Persian Gulf area, including one from thePrince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, which was deployed in recent years to protect American troops. The aircraft carrier and surveillance systems are expected to suffer a similar fate, and Washington is considering other options to reduce its military presence in the Middle East.
However, the reduction of the US military presence in the Middle East is by no means an indication of Washington’s transition to a peace-loving foreign policy. Washington intends to move some military equipment and personnel to other regions in order to focus on Russia and China, the two countries that the Pentagon has already declared its main global competitors. The White House is also keeping under the radar the fact that in place of American troops in the region, just as many members of the American PMCs will be sent, which, following the example of actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, will take the main “care” of the continuation of American intervention in the region.
In addition, representatives of the US Central Command (CENTCOM, whose area of responsibility includes the Middle East) have already announced that they have conducted “test operations” in the Saudi port of Yanbu, including the unloading and shipment of cargo from one of the military facilities in the region. The Pentagon conducted similar “tests” at a number of other air bases and seaports in the western regions of Saudi Arabia in case of a possible armed conflict with Iran or war in the Middle East. In particular, the US military inspected King Faisal’s airbase in Tabuk and King Fahd’s airbase in Taif in Saudi Arabia.
It is also no secret that much of the regrouping of forces and movement of US military equipment is due to Washington’s desire to share more responsibility and further action in the Middle East not only with Saudi Arabia, but also with its other Western allies.
Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.