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Pentagon chief to travel to Mideast, Africa next week



US Secretary of Defense James Mattis will travel to the Middle East and Africa next week to meet with regional allies “to re-affirm key US military alliances,” the Pentagon says.

Mattis will first arrive in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for “a series of meetings with key international counterparts to strengthen commitments to the US-Saudi security partnership,” the Pentagon said in a statement on Friday.

This will be Mattis’s fourth overseas trip since he became President Donald Trump’s defense secretary in January.

After visiting Saudi officials, he will head to Egypt Wednesday “to discuss regional security issues” and take part in a ceremony at the Unknown Soldier Memorial.

Mattis will then fly to Israel on Thursday to hold meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Avigdor Lieberman, the minister for military affairs.

On Saturday, Mattis will visit Qatar to meet “key international leadership” and work on strengthening “regional security architectures,” the Pentagon said.

He will wrap up his trip by a visit to Djibouti on Sunday where he is scheduled to meet with President Ismail Omar Guelleh to “further the US-Djibouti commitment to promoting regional stability.”

The Pentagon also said that the international trip meant to “discuss cooperative effort to counter destabilizing activities and defeat extremist terror organizations.”

A picture taken on April 7, 2017 shows a view of the damaged Shayrat airfield in Syria targeted earlier by US Tomahawk cruise missiles. (Photo by AFP)

This comes amid heightened tensions with Russia after the US military struck a Syrian airbase on April 7 in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack that Washington insists was carried out by government jets operating from the airbase.

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At least nine people were killed and 20 Syrian fighter jets were blown up at Shayrat airfield after the US Navy’s USS Porter and USS Ross guided-missile destroyers fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Mediterranean.

The Russian Defense Ministry noted shortly after the US attack that only 23 had landed on the airbase and the rest had missed.

The suspicious chemical explosion in the town of Khan Shaykhun on April 4 reportedly left over 70 people dead.

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