US sending more air defence systems to Middle East to fight drone attacks

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The US will send a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and additional Patriot air defence missile system battalions to the Middle East, the Pentagon said on Saturday, in response to recent attacks on US troops in the region.

The United States has sent a significant amount of naval power to the Middle East in recent weeks, including two aircraft carriers, their support ships and about 2,000 Marines.

US missile defense system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, is seen at a golf course in Seongju, South Korea.Credit: AP

Defence systems at Iraq’s Ain al-Asad air base, which hosts US and other international forces in western Iraq, intercepted and shot down two drones while they were hovering near the base, an Iraqi security source said on Saturday.

In a statement cited by SITE Intelligence monitoring group, the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq”, a Shiite militant group, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Washington is on heightened alert for activity by Iran-backed groups as regional tensions soar during the Israel-Hamas war.

“Following detailed discussions with President (Joe) Biden on recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces across the Middle East Region, today I directed a series of additional steps to further strengthen the Department of Defense posture in the region,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin has announced that Washington will send more defence hardware to the Middle East.Credit: AP

Austin said he was placing additional troops on prepare-to-deploy orders, but did not say how many. The Pentagon has already placed some 2,000 troops on a heightened state of readiness in case they need to deploy to the region.

“These steps will bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for US forces in the region, and assist in the defense of Israel,” Austin added.

The deployments come two years after Biden’s administration withdrew air defence systems from the Middle East, citing a reduction in tensions with Iran.

The Patriot, considered one of the most advanced US air defence systems, is usually in short supply, with allies around the world vying for it.

The THAAD system has a powerful radar. U.S. deployment of the system to South Korea in 2016 angered China, which believed it could peer into its airspace.

There has been a spike in attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria since the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza broke out. Last week, a US warship shot down more than a dozen drones and four cruise missiles fired by Iranian-backed Houthis from Yemen.

Israel started its “total siege” of Gaza after an Oct. 7 cross-border attack on southern Israel by militants of the Islamist movement killed 1,400 people, mainly civilians, in a shock rampage that has traumatised Israel.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Saturday that Israel’s air and missile strikes had killed at least 4,385 Palestinians, including hundreds of children, with more than a million of the tiny territory’s 2.3 million people displaced.

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