US troops return to Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan AB after 17 years

US troops are returning to the Saudi Arabian Prince Sultan Air Base near Riyadh, for the first time in 17 years, the WSJ reported.

The last time troops were in the base, was back in 2003, when they were moved to Qatar.

The purpose of the deployment of the 2,500 troops is to deter Iran from carrying out attacks on Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure, following an attack on Aramco’s oil facilities in September 2019, which the US and Saudi Arabia blamed on Tehran.

The prior US abandonment of the base was in large part because the US soldiers stationed in the strict Islamic kingdom became a “huge recruiting device for al Qaida,” according to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

“We face a thinking enemy that is playing a real regional conflict for keeps, and they’re very good,” Gen. John Walker, the commander of the 378th Air Expeditionary Wing at the base, told The Wall Street Journal regarding the return of US troops to the Prince Sultan Air Base.

The WSJ furthermore reported that the US was sure in its ability to defend Saudi Arabia, unlike before.

“U.S. defense officials now say they have shored up Saudi air defenses to the extent that they could prevent an airstrike like the one in September, thanks in part to the deployment of four American Patriot missile batteries in Saudi Arabia, including two stationed at Prince Sultan. Yet defense officials acknowledge that Patriot missiles, which cost millions of dollars, are an expensive tool to parry cheaper cruise missiles or drones.”

There is very little modern infrastructure at the air base, “at the moment, the American encampment at Prince Sultan remains a basic outpost. The Saudis have built a road to service the American section of the base, while the Americans are installing electricity for new tents, and replacing some tents with trailers,” the WSJ reported.

Saudi military students were also allowed to resume their flight training at US bases, the Stars and Stripes reported.

The U.S. Navy said in a statement that flight training for the Saudi students resumed on February 25th. The training for about 850 Saudis at multiple U.S. bases was suspended December 10th, four days after a Saudi trainee shot and killed three U.S. Navy sailors at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.