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 on Friday (Saturday in Manila). 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.