US and Saudi ground forces conduct joint military exercise
Saudi and US ground forces launched joint military exercises in the kingdom's northwest region this week, as the two countries look to strengthen defence cooperation after months of uncertainty.
The Saudi defence ministry said the "Falcon Claws 4" drill was aimed at strengthening military ties between the two nations and facilitating the exchange of "military information and experiences".
It also seeks to "improve compatibility between military equipment and doctrines, raise the level of readiness and ability to work with friendly forces, and to prepare to combat any external threats".
Similar objectives were cited in a joint military exercise conducted by US marines and Saudi naval forces at Kind Faisal Naval Base in Jeddah last week, which involved shooting drills.
King Faisal Naval Base is situated near the eponymous air base, the improvements of which Saudi Arabia has already paid for, as it has in the King Fahd Air Base in Taif.
Both bases are earmarked for more investment, along with the commercial and industrial ports in coastal Yanbu to make them more accessible for the US military, The Wall Street Journal reported in January.
The drill comes as the US military reviews its posture in the Middle East, prompting concern from Saudi leaders who say they rely on Washington's support against regular missile and drone strikes from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Despite withdrawing some troops and hardware from the region, the US military insists that joint Saudi-US air and missile defence systems present in the kingdom are effective in tackling those threats.
Washington is poised to strengthen its logistics network in the kingdom via a port and two airfields near the Red Sea coast, in contingency preparations against Tehran.
As Washington opts for a more flexible posture in the Gulf, a top US military official last month conceded that a drawdown of Washington's permanent military presence in the Middle East could offer more opportunities for Russia and China to fill the vacuum.
"The Middle East writ broadly is an area of intense competition between the great powers. And I think that as we adjust our posture in the region, Russia and China will be looking very closely to see if a vacuum opens that they can exploit," Frank McKenzie, who head US Central Command, told reporters.
McKenzie suggested that Beijing and Moscow may explore boosting arms sales as one means of consolidating influence.
US President Joe Biden has pressed on with weapons sales to the UAE and appears unwilling to change tack with Riyadh despite campaign pledges.