US Troops Are Likely Headed to This Saudi Air Base

U.S. Army civil engineers build tent platforms for the primary U.S. Forces Life Support Area at Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on July 24, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sean Campbell)
U.S. Army civil engineers build tent platforms for the primary U.S. Forces Life Support Area at Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on July 24, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sean Campbell)

U.S. troops and air defenses deploying in the wake of attacks on Saudi oil production facilities will likely spend their time at the newly reopened Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia's central desert.

A U.S. Central Command spokesman said Tuesday that the decision process is ongoing, but U.S. officials previously have listed Prince Sultan as a likely choice.

The presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, home to Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest sites, has always spurred opposition in the kingdom. But U.S. troops earlier this summer began work to reopen Prince Sultan as tensions with Iran escalated.

Air Force Col. Doug Jackson, commander of the 621st Contingency Response Wing, told Military.com last week that teams from his wing were sent to Prince Sultan, about 50 miles southeast of the capital of Riyadh, to prepare the airfield for renewed operations.

Related: Attacks on Saudi Oil Plants Reveal Weaknesses in US-Made Defenses

"When tensions with Iran got a little bit heightened, we sent a team to [Central Command] on short notice -- equipment and 120 personnel" to ready Prince Sultan, Jackson said at the Air Force Association's Air, Space & Cyber Conference.

"We reopened an airfield in Saudi Arabia that hadn't been used for an extended period of time," he said.

In July, Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, visited Prince Sultan to check on the progress.

Last Friday at a Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said that additional troops and air defense assets would be sent to the region in response to the Sept. 14 attacks, in which drone and cruise missile swarms devastated the Saudi oil production facilities. The low-and-slow attacks eluded U.S.-made defenses.

They described a limited response, details of which would be worked out this week with CENTCOM. Dunford indicated the troop deployments would likely number in the hundreds, not thousands.

Saudi Arabia first permitted the use of Prince Sultan for major U.S. air operations when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, prompting the start of Operation Desert Shield.

In 1998, a terrorist bombing later blamed on Iran hit the Khobar Towers complex near Dharan in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. airmen and a Saudi national.

In 2003, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered Prince Sultan to be shut down following the invasion of Iraq. At the time, the U.S. Combined Air Operations Center was shifted from Prince Sultan to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, where it remains.

Prince Sultan had been in disuse until earlier this summer, when U.S. troops began deploying there again.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct the first name of Col. Doug Jackson.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

Read more: Army Details Plan to Equip Stryker Infantry Carriers with Tank-Killing Missiles

Show Full Article