THE US is preparing to send 500 troops to Saudi Arabia to front up to the growing Iran threat, it was reported last night.
They will be deployed to a remote base east of the Saudi capital Riyadh, according to two US defence officials.
The move will fortify the growing Prince Sultan Air Base – which is being heavily built-up with a Patriot missile defence battery and an improved runway, CNN reported.
It’s hoped that fifth-generation F-22 stealth jets and other fighters will be flown from the base to strike Iranian targets should war break out, the unnamed officials said.
US military chiefs believe the site is well protected from Iranian attack because of its remote desert location.
It comes amid feverish tensions between Iran and the West that has seen tense naval standoffs and attacks on oil supply routes.
TIES WITH SAUDIS
But critics fear closer ties between the Trump administration and the brutal Saudi regime – which is widely considered responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Last night the US House of Representatives voted to block the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
President Donald Trump has previously promised a veto to overrule Congress and complete the deals – worth more than $8billion (£6.43bn).
The fresh deployment is part of the 1,000 additional troops being sent to the Middle East announced by the US last month.
An official announcement is expected next week – although Congress has not yet been official told of the plan, the defence sources said.
SATELLITE SHOWS BASE EXPANDING
Satellite imagery obtained by CNN appears to show intensive construction work at the Prince Sultan Air Base in recent weeks.
They show an initial deployment of US troops and support personnel to the air base in mid-June, experts claim.
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project, said they show preparations being made to the site ahead of the troops’ arrival.
He said: “A small encampment and construction equipment appeared at the end of a runway by June 27, suggesting that improvements are already underway.
“The encampment to the east of the runway is typical of Air Force engineering squadrons deployed overseas.”
The Pentagon has declined to comment on the deployment.
It was announced this week that a third Royal Navy warship is being sent to the Persian Gulf this summer amid British-Iranian tensions.
The Iranian Grace 1 oil tanker was seized by Royal Marine commandos earlier this month off the coast of Gibraltar on suspicion of breaching sanctions by heading to Syria.
Iran has threatened to seize a British tanker in retaliation if the Grace 1 is not released.
Three Iranian boats tried to capture a BP oil tanker as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz on July 10 – prompting an armed standoff with the frigate HMS Montrose.
HMS Duncan has since been deployed to patrol the busy shipping lane in the Persian Gulf.
Another Type 23 frigate – HMS Kent – will be deployed later in the year to replace the Duncan when it reaches the end of its mission.
And the tanker RFA Wave Knight will be sent to the region in August to perform duties delivering food, fuel, water and other essential supplies to Royal Navy and allied ships.
Tehran and Washington severed diplomatic ties after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and the hostage crisis that ensued when militant students stormed the US Embassy.
Friction has flared again since President Trump last year pulled the US out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
He called the pact one-sided and reimposed sanctions on Tehran’s oil exports.
The sanctions have contributed to an economic crisis in Iran that has sent its currency plummeting.
Iran recently began exceeding limits on the amount and purity of uranium it is allowed to stockpile under the nuclear agreement.
Tehran has said the moves can be reversed if the deal’s other participants – including the UK – come up with economic incentives.
The US has sent thousands of troops, an aircraft carrier, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the Middle East.
Fears are growing of a wider conflict after the mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz blamed on Iran.
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