The U.S. military has considered using a port in the Red Sea along with two more airfields in Saudi Arabia as tensions with Iran remain strained, according to the Associated Press.
NEW tonight: US Centcom has been quietly using ports and airbases in Saudi’s west as a way to get troops and mil equipment into the region without relying solely on traditional US bases in the Gulf. It’s about options, Gen. McKenzie tells us here in Yanbu https://t.co/zrqRmm5D3P
— Gordon Lubold (@glubold) January 25, 2021
The military said it has already begun to test moving cargo from a Saudi port at Yanbu, which offers access to oil pipelines, according to the AP.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, told Defense One that Yanbu and the air bases at Tabuk and Taif along the Red Sea would offer U.S. troops better mobility in an area that would be “contested” if there was an armed conflict with Iran.
“The Arabian Gulf would be contested waters under any scenario of armed conflict with Iran, so you look at the places where you would move your forces as they enter the theater from being in a contested area,” McKenzie said. “Certainly the Red Sea, the western [part] of the Arabian peninsula presents those opportunities.”
“These are prudent military planning measures that allow for temporary or conditional access of facilities in the event of a contingency, and are not provocative in any way, nor are they an expansion of the U.S. footprint in the region, in general, or in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in particular,” Urban told the Associated Press.
Urban said the testing was sparked by the 2019 attack on a Saudi oil refinery. Both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have blamed Iran for the strike. The weapons used in the attack appeared to be made by Iran. This strike eliminated 5% of the daily global oil supply at the time.
Former President Donald Trump deployed troops in Saudi Arabia in September due to concerns over Iran and this attack.
Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, criticized this possible U.S. expansion, claiming that foreign troops in the Middle East “one of the main reasons for the chaotic situation and insecurity in our region,” according to the AP.
“Any ‘contingency for conflict’ with Iran would only make sense if another country intended to attack Iran and we are determined to defend ourselves if attacked,” Miryousefi said.
Urban said these expansion plans have been underway for about a year. It remains unclear what President Joe Biden’s relationship with Saudi Arabia will be like.