While the order was described as “contingency planning,” the US military said it had already tested the unloading and shipment of goods by road from the Saudi port of Yanbu, an important terminal for the kingdom’s oil pipelines.
Using Yanbu, as well as air bases in Tabuk and Taif, would give the U.S. military more options along a crucial waterway that has increasingly been exposed to suspected attacks by mines and boats of Yemeni Houthi rebels backed by Iran.
However, this announcement comes at a time when Saudi-American relations remained strained over the killing of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 and the kingdom’s ongoing war in Yemen in the early days of President Joe Biden’s administration. The deployment of US forces – albeit temporarily – to bases in the kingdom could stoke anger among militants.
US Central Command spokesman Bill Urban said that the assessment of the sites has been going on for more than a year, due to the September 2019 attack by drones and a missile on the heart of the Saudi oil industry.
Saudi Arabia and the United States blamed Iran for the attack, which temporarily halved Saudi oil production and resulted in a rise in oil prices. Tehran has denied its involvement and the Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack, although the drones in question appear to be Iranian-made.
Urban wrote: “These are prudent military planning measures that allow temporary or conditional access to facilities in the event of an emergency. They are not provocative in any way, nor are they an expansion of the United States’ presence in the region, in general, or in Saudi Arabia, in particular.” “.
And General Frank MacKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, visited Yanbu on Monday. The “Defense Ten” and “The Wall Street Journal”, whose journalists accompanied Mackenzie to Yanbu, reported the US plans.