US President Donald Trump said on Friday he will send about 1,500 American troops to the Middle East, mostly as a protective measure, amid heightened tensions with Iran.
“We want to have protection in the Middle East. We’re going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective,” Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to Japan.
“Some very talented people are going to the Middle East right now. And we’ll see what happens,” he said.
The Pentagon said only about 900 of the 1,500 troops will be newly deploying and that 600 are already in the region and will be extended. It said they include Patriot missile battery personnel, manning for surveillance aircraft and engineers.
The forces would help strengthen US defenses in the region, two sources told Reuters earlier on condition of anonymity.
The US military deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East earlier this month in response to what Washington said were troubling indications of possible preparations for an attack by Iran.
“Right now, I don't think Iran wants to fight. And I certainly don't think they want to fight with us,” Trump said.
“But they cannot have nuclear weapons,” he continued. “They can’t have nuclear weapons. And they understand that.”
“This is a prudent response to credible threats from Iran,” said Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan.
Pentagon officials said the 1,500 additional troops were in response to recent incidents in the region that US intelligence had tied to Iran’s leadership.
Those have included a rocket attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad, explosive devices that damaged four tankers in Fujairah at the entrance to the Gulf, and a Houthi drone attack against a Saudi oil installation.
“We view this as a campaign,” said Rear Admiral Michael Gilday, director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff.
Gilday stressed that the expanded US military presence in the region, including an aircraft carrier task force, B-52 bombers, and an amphibious attack vessel deployed earlier this month, are defensive and meant to address an alleged ongoing threat from Iran.
“We think that through a combination of a very measured deployment of assets as well as public messaging, we are again trying to underscore that we are not seeking hostilities with Iran.”
Rhetoric between Tehran and Washington has escalated in recent weeks as the United States tightened sanctions with what it said was the goal of pushing Iran to make concessions beyond the terms of its 2015 nuclear deal.
Trump warned on Monday that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked US interests in the Middle East.
Earlier, a US official told Al Arabiya correspondent in Washingtonon Friday that President Trump agreed to send more troops to the Middle East.
The Trump administration at that time had not disclosed a specific number for the additional troops buildup to be sent to the region, in a move to beef up defenses against potential Iranian threats.
On Thursday, President Trump said that he was willing to consider sending more US troops to the Middle East to counter Iran, as he prepared to meet Pentagon officials to discuss it later in the day.
For his part, acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan confirmed on Thursday that the Pentagon was considering sending additional US troops to the Middle East.
(With Reuters and AFP)