Pentagon Chief to visit Middle East, Africa next week

Pentagon Chief to visit Middle East, Africa next week

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is heading to the Middle East and Africa next week for a series of meetings with regional allies, the Pentagon said Friday.

The trip will be Mattis's fourth overseas since he became President Donald Trump's defense secretary. It comes amid heightened tensions with Russia following the US military strike on a Syrian air base in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack.

The trip includes stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, Qatar and Djibouti.

Mattis is making the trip to "reaffirm key US military alliances, to engage with strategic partners in the Middle East and Africa, and to discuss cooperative efforts to counter destabilizing activities and defeat extremist terror organizations," the Pentagon said.

In Israel, Mattis will meet with President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He will also visit the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.

US-Russia relations are at a low point after Trump ordered the missile strike on a Syrian air base last week. Moscow has been conducting a military campaign in Syria to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Mattis and regional US allies are also expected to discuss the growing influence of Iran. (APP)