General McKenzie says Saudi Arabia is still asking for help to deter Iran.
McKenzie did not speculate on the possible outcome of the review, but did admit that it is a cause for concern in Saudi Arabia.
“I think they want the reassurance that they will be helped if they are attacked by Iran and they want help against the ongoing attacks,” McKenzie, head of US Central Command, told ABC News and Associated Press reporters. they’ll be traveling with him to the Middle East this week.
McKenzie said Sunday that while the presence of American military forces in the region has deterred Iranian aggression against Saudi Arabia, he believes that “far more important is the wide range of capabilities we give them.”
He cited the link between Saudi and American Patriot missile defense systems, which provide an improved early warning system in the event Iran should launch a missile attack on Saudi Arabia.
“The point I made today and that we keep making is: it’s not really the types of devices that are here, it maximizes the use of the 20+ Patriot batteries you have interoperable with us, maximizes these skills so that in the event of any problems we can certainly return very quickly to help our Saudi friends, “said McKenzie.
“I think our stance in the theater prevented a state from attacking Iran,” he added.
But he also acknowledged his belief that the US presence in the region did not prevent Iranian proxies from carrying out attacks.
“They are constantly being bombarded from Yemen with a variety of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and small UAS (unmanned aerial vehicles) that they are very concerned about. We want to help them with that,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie says Iranian-backed Houthi forces have fired around 100 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones at Saudi Arabia in Yemen in the past three months.
“You are the proxy for Iran, so you are constantly being bombed, you feel attacked and you are under attack,” he said.
US efforts to link Saudi patriots’ missile batteries to American batteries invaded Saudi Arabia have helped the Saudi Arabian forces intercept large numbers of the missiles fired from Yemen.
McKenzie believes it is important to maximize the capabilities of American weapons systems in the region, and he is also aware that reducing troop numbers could lead to Iranian provocations.
He believes the reduction in American troops in 2019 sparked a cycle of Iranian escalation provocations that culminated in Iran’s missile strike on Iraqi Al Asad air base last January.
This Iranian attack was sparked by a US air strike in Baghdad that killed Qassem Soleimani, a top leader in the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
While it is possible that US troop reductions in the Russia and China region offer an opportunity to fill the gap with potential arms sales, McKenzie is not too concerned about the possibility.
“I think we will still be present here. It may not look like it did five or seven years ago when we have hundreds and thousands of forces here, but I think we will play games very smartly to take advantage of that what we have, “he said.
“And it’s not necessarily just a ship or just a submarine or just an aircraft carrier, it’s the entire approach of the US government,” McKenzie said.