U.S. troops have returned to Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan Air Base nearly 17 years after pulling out to help face the threat being posed by Iran.
"We face a thinking enemy that is playing a real regional conflict for keeps, and they’re very good,” said Gen. John Walker, the commander of the 378th Air Expeditionary Wing at the base, told The Wall Street Journal.
He was last deployed to the Saudi desert in 1997, and commented that this time around, "the wind and the dust are the same."
About 2,500 U.S. troops have been deployed to the base, located about 60 miles out of Riyadh, from where they are launching F-15 fighter jets and manning Patriot missile batteries.
President Donald Trump has vowed to pull out of the Middle East, notes the publication, but the policy of confrontation with Iran, and the decision to pull some U.S. troops out of Syria has resulted in sending thousands of soldiers elsewhere in the region.
U.S. troops were last at the base in 2003, after more than a half-million troops were sent to protect the Saudi kingdom in the wake of Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Most troops were pulled out after the invasion of Iraq leading to the ouster of its president, Saddam Hussein, moving instead to Qatar.
The presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia became a "huge recruiting device for al Qaida," then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said at the time.
However, the kingdom is welcoming U.S. troops there now in hopes of preventing new attacks from Iran like the strikes in September 2019 that crippled the nation's oil production.
According to U.S. defense officials, American troops have shored up the Saudi defenses so that they can prevent another airstrike, including the deployment of four American Patriot missile batteries, including two at Prince Sultan.
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