Pentagon confirms removal of troops and air defence assets from Middle East

US reportedly withdrawing Patriot anti-missile batteries, THAAD anti-missile system and fighter squadrons

U.S military forces take part in a large scale drill as part of the African Lion military exercise, in Tantan, south of Agadir, Morocco, Friday, June 18, 2021. The U.S.-led African Lion war games, which have lasted nearly two weeks, stretched across Morocco, a key U.S, ally, with smaller exercises held in Tunisia and in Senegal, whose troops ultimately moved to Morocco. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

The US Pentagon on Friday confirmed it is removing troops and weapons from the Middle East this summer to be sent to other regions.

Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica McNulty said Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin had directed the commander of US Central Command to remove certain forces – primarily air defence assets – from the region in the coming months.

“Some of these assets will be returned to the United States for much-needed maintenance and repair. Some of them will be redeployed to other regions,” Ms McNulty said, without elaborating.

The Pentagon emphasised the decision was made "in close co-ordination with host nations and with a clear eye on preserving our ability to meet our security commitments".

Ms McNulty said the changes would not be detrimental to national security interests in the Middle East.

“We also retain the flexibility to rapidly flow forces back into the Middle East as conditions warrant," she said.

“Our enduring commitment in the region is very clear from the incredible range of partnership activities and close defence consultations we conduct to our significant remaining ground, air and naval footprint."

The Wall Street Journal reported that the US would reduce its military footprint in the region in what it called a shift to face challenges from China and Russia.

The newspaper said the reduction entails the removal of about eight Patriot anti-missile batteries, a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system and fighter squadrons.

Hundreds of troops will also be redeployed as the administration of US President Joe Biden focuses on Asia and aims to de-escalate tension with Iran.

Last week, Mr Austin described China as the primary challenge for the government.

He issued an internal directive to "laser focus" the Pentagon's "efforts to address China as the nation's number one pacing challenge".