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US deploys F-16 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia despite criticizing Saudi war on Yemen

An F-16 jet before it departs McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., for a deployment to Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, on April 12, 2021. (Photo by US Air National Guard)

The Pentagon has deployed about 300 US airmen and F-16 fighter jets to Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, for an "expeditionary force deployment".

Marking the second deployment from South Carolina Air in the past 18 months, the F-16s were sent to the Saudi base, Air Force Magazine reported.

The Saudi military said the F-16s will “increase defensive capabilities against potential threats in the region,” adding that the deployment will last “several months.”

US military officials said the new forces are will partner with US allies in the Middle East to “deliver airpower where and when needed.”

The deployment came as the Biden administration announced its intent to allow the sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia for what it calls “defensive purposes”.

US State Department also announced on Tuesday that the administration will approve $23 billion in weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates as it is close to completing a review of the Trump-era weapons sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Washington will go ahead with the plan “even as we continue reviewing details and consulting with Emirati officials” related to the use of the weapons, a spokesman for the department said.

The sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE had been finalized under former US President Donald Trump, who had close ties with the two countries.

US President Joe Biden has criticized Trump’s policy toward Saudi Arabia. Last year, Democrats in US Congress strongly criticized the sales, citing Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s war against Yemen, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Yemeni civilians.

Soon after Biden’s inauguration, the White House halted the arms sales and began a review into the sales.

The US president has also claimed he would end “all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”

“I and many other House members remain concerned about the proposed sale of $23 billion in arms to the UAE,” Democratic Representative Gregory W. Meeks said on Wednesday.

He added that he had “many questions about any decision by the Biden administration to go forward with the Trump administration’s proposed transfers” of the fighter jets, drones and munitions to the UAE.

The suspension, however, does not cover sales of weapons that the Saudis can use to “defend themselves”, drawing a strong protest from human rights activists who argue that the US policy toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE has not changed in spite of the Biden administration’s rhetoric.

Back during the Trump administration, Raytheon Company, a major US defense contractor, lobbied the administration to continue the sales, in spite of all the opposition it faced.

Meanwhile, there are speculations that the US decision to authorize the arms sale to the UAE indicates Washington may be less willing to pressure its Persian Gulf allies as long as both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi pivot to less confrontational foreign and domestic policies.

“The White House could, however, revert to a more hardline position again if these governments deviate from US regional goals,” said a report published on Stratfor, an American research group.

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