House Republican Presses Biden on Removal of Military Equipment From Middle East

Rep. Steil concerned Biden admin is making concessions to Iran amid nuclear negotiations

NORTHEASTERN SYRIA - MAY 25: U.S. Army soldiers board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter while departing a remote combat outpost known as RLZ on May 25, 2021 near the Turkish border in northeastern Syria. U.S. forces, part of Task Force WARCLUB operate from combat outposts in the area, coordinating with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in combatting residual ISIS extremists and deterring pro-Iranian militia. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
July 19, 2021

A Republican congressman is pressing the Biden administration to brief Congress on its decision to remove U.S. military equipment from the Middle East amid concerns the decision was part of a series of concessions offered to Iran during ongoing nuclear discussions.

The Biden Defense Department ordered the removal last month of several U.S. anti-missile batteries installed across the Middle East, citing the diminished threat from Iran. At least eight Patriot anti-missile systems were erected in allied countries—including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Kuwait—as part of the Trump administration’s bid to deter Iranian attacks.

Rep. Bryan Steil (R., Wis.), a member of the Republican Study Committee's foreign affairs task force, is demanding the Biden administration brief Congress about its decision, which he worries could be part of an effort to appease Iran as nuclear talks stall in Vienna. The Biden administration has already provided Iran with a limited amount of relief from American sanctions, but Iran has been clear it wants more. The removal of this military equipment, Steil says, was pushed through even though Iranian-backed militants continue to attack U.S. allies and military assets in the region, including at least 100 strikes on Saudi Arabia this year alone. Iranian militias in Iraq also have taken responsibility for strikes on American targets in the country.

Steil suspects that allied countries in the Middle East privately objected to the decision, which also included the removal of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system from Saudi Arabia, a chief target for Iranian militants. The timing of the decision, which was made late last month as talks with Iran approached an impasse, is also fueling concerns the administration pulled the equipment to appease Tehran.

"We respectfully request a member of your administration provide a briefing to relevant congressional committees on all of the conversations between your administration and any countries that led to this action," Steil wrote to President Joe Biden, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Steil wants information regarding the justification for removing the missile systems and the plan for where they will be relocated as well as a list of anyone involved in the decision-making, including "a list of persons who have inquired or displayed an interest in the removal of these anti-missile batteries."

Steil says the administration’s public justification for removing the anti-missile systems does not jibe with reality. Iranian-backed terrorist groups have not stopped their attacks on U.S. and allied forces, including in Iraq. The Biden administration authorized a drone strike against Iranian militias in Syria on June 27, less than a week after it ordered the defensive military equipment removed. That strike, the administration said at the time, was in response to Iranian-backed attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.

Negotiations with Iran are on hold as the hardline regime installs incoming president Ebrahim Raisi, a close ally of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The Biden administration offered a rare rebuke of the Iranians over the weekend after deputy foreign minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi accused the United States of stalling a hostage agreement that would free several Americans detained in Tehran. Araghchi said the United States was leveraging the prisoner swap to pressure Iran into resuming nuclear negotiations.

The State Department called the claim "outrageous" and an attempt by Iran to fool the families of those detained into believing the Biden administration nixed the deal.

"These comments are an outrageous effort to deflect blame for the current impasse on a potential mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement, referring to the nuclear accord by its official acronym. "We stand ready to return to Vienna to complete work on a mutual return to the JCPOA once Iran has made the necessary decisions."