German soldiers assigned to Surface Air and Missile Defense Wing 1 fire the Patriot weapons system at the NATO Missile Firing Installation (NAMFI) during Artemis Strike Nov. 7 in Chania, Greece. The U.S. Army is modernizing its air and missile defense capabilities to support allies and maintain overmatch against enemies. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo )

The Pentagon is pulling Patriot missile systems from three countries in the Middle East as part of a “rebalance” away from the region, a US official said Wednesday.

The move comes as the United States switches its focus towards countering Russia and China in an era of “great power competition.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the US official told AFP that the Pentagon is pulling a total of four Patriot missile systems from Kuwait, Jordan and Bahrain.

The missiles will be returned to the US “in the next month or two” for a refit and modernization, the official said, noting that the countries have access to other defensive capabilities so will not be left vulnerable.

Patriots are designed to intercept tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and other airborne threats.

The redeployment of the missiles, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, is happening at a time of increased tension between the US and Iran, which President Donald Trump and his national security advisor John Bolton this week assailed at the United Nations.

The official said the decision to pull the Patriots was made before current tensions with Tehran, which US officials say has large stockpiles of missiles that threaten neighbors.

“This is part of a rebalance away from the Middle East, and that decision was made long before the current back and forth with Iran,” the official said.

When approached by Pentagon reporters, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis declined to comment on the matter.

Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Rebecca Rebarich said that due to operational security “we’re not going to discuss the movement of specific capabilities into and out of the US Central Command area of responsibility.”