WASHINGTON (Dispatches) -- Saudi Arabia has reportedly paid $500 million to begin to cover the cost of U.S. military operating in the Arab country, a U.S. official has told CNN.
The payment was made in December 2019, Pentagon spokeswoman Rebecca Rebarich told the broadcaster.
"Consistent with the President’s guidance to increase partner burden-sharing, the Department of Defense has engaged Saudi Arabia on sharing the cost of these deployments, which support regional security and dissuade hostility and aggression. The Saudi government has agreed to help underwrite the cost of these activities and has made the first contribution,” she said.
Last week, President Donald Trump said the Saudis had "already deposited $1 billion in the bank”.
"We’re sending more [troops] to Saudi Arabia, and Saudi Arabia is paying us for it,” Trump said. "I said, ‘Listen, you’re a very rich country. You want more troops? I’m going to send them to you, but you have to pay us.’ They’re paying us. They’ve already deposited $1 billion in the bank.”
Critics, including independent representative Justin Amash, slammed the move, accusing Trump of using American troops as "paid mercenaries.”
"He sells troops,” Amash tweeted.
Speaking to MSNBC, Democrat representative Barbara Lee said Trump deposited the Saudi money in a personal bank account and that the president was "selling our soldiers as mercenaries to foreign governments.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Rebarich said discussions were ongoing to formalize the contributions.
The Saudi funds are to cover the overall costs of deploying troops, as well as fighter jets and Patriot missile defense batteries to protect Saudi oil installations, CNN reported.
The deployments began after what the Saudis and Americans claimed were Iran’s attacks on Aramco oil facilities in September 2019. Iran has denied any involvement in the attacks, for which
Yemen’s Ansaraullah movement claimed responsibility.
The military buildup has come despite Trump repeatedly claiming that he wants to reduce the U.S. military deployment in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday his country will deploy the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and its battle group to support French military operations in Middle East.
"The aircraft carrier will support Chammal operations (in the Middle East) from January to April 2020 before deploying to the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea”, Macron said at a New Year speech to the French military, according to Reuters.
France has also deployed a radar system on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia to beef up its ally’s defenses after missile attacks on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure in September, French officials said.
"In the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf, where tensions are mounting, we have deployed in record time the Jaguar Task Force, which contributes to reassuring the Saudi kingdom,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a speech to the French military late on Thursday.
The initiative had not been announced until now.
The United States’ withdrawal in 2018 from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and the reimposition of U.S. sanctions has triggered an escalation in tensions over several months that briefly led to open conflict in January.
French officials said a radar system as part of the Jaguar Task Force mission had been deployed on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia facing the Persian Gulf. They declined to give further details.
The deployment comes amid growing tensions between Iran and the United States, which escalated following Washington’s assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.