Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday and reaffirmed the US military’s commitment to the “defense” of Saudi Arabia.
The conversation comes after President Biden announced he was ending US support for Saudi Arabia’s “offensive” operations in Yemen, leaving room to support Riyadh militarily if it can be framed as defensive.
Austin condemned attacks inside Saudi Arabia that are launched by Yemen’s Houthis. “The Secretary condemned the recent Houthi cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia and expressed his commitment to assisting Saudi Arabia in the defense of its borders,” The Pentagon said in a statement on the call.
The reality of these cross-border Houthi attacks is that they wouldn’t be happening if not for Saudi Arabia’s aggression in Yemen. Since 2015, the US has backed Riyadh’s vicious bombing campaign and helped enforce a land, sea, and air blockade on Yemen. The siege has led to mass starvation. The UN is now warning that if conditions don’t change, 400,000 Yemeni children under the age of five will starve to death.
Austin also mentioned the change in US policy on Yemen. “Secretary Austin reiterated recent changes in US policy toward the Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen.” As part of Biden’s Yemen policy, the president appointed a special envoy who is seeking a diplomatic solution to end the conflict.
Despite Washington’s efforts to end the war in Yemen, the US military presence in Saudi Arabia seems set to continue. The Trump administration sent troops to Saudi Arabia in 2019, the first time US forces were deployed to the country since 2003. Now, the US is looking to establish new bases in western Saudi Arabia. The idea is that western areas are not in the range of Iran’s ballistic missiles.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, discussed these western locations on Thursday, although he downplayed the idea that they would be permanent bases. “We are not looking for new bases. I want to be clear on that,” he said. “What we would like to do, without shutting down these [current] bases … is to have the ability to go to other bases to operate in a period of heightened risk.”