WASHINGTON: The US yesterday announced the deployment of 1,500 troops to the region, describing it as an effort to bolster defences against Iran.
It also accused the country’s Revolutionary Guards of direct responsibility for this month’s tanker attacks.
US President Donald Trump publicly announced the 1,500 figure and described it as a defensive measure.
The troops include personnel manning missile defence systems, aerial surveillance to spot threats and engineers to fortify defences.
“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.
The deployment marks a reversal of sorts for Trump, who only on Thursday said he thought more troops were unnecessary.
Trump, saying there is a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, also swept aside objections from Congress and cleared the sale of $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.
The deployment is relatively small, compared with the about 70,000 American troops now stationed across a region that stretches from Egypt to Afghanistan. In addition, some 600 of the 1,500 “new” troops are already in the Middle East manning Patriot missiles, and will see their deployments extended.
Eager to avoid escalation with Iran amid already heightened tensions, Pentagon officials stressed the defensive nature of the deployment in a news briefing and noted that none of the troops would be heading to hot spots like Iraq or Syria.
The Trump administration this month ordered the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group, bombers and additional Patriot missiles to the Middle East, citing intelligence about possible Iranian preparations to attack US forces or interests.
Rear Admiral Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff, yesterday described US intelligence portraying a new Iranian “campaign” that used old tactics, and stretched from Iraq to Yemen to the waters in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital maritime chokepoint for the global oil trade.
Gilday accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Force (IRGC) of being directly responsible for attacks on tankers off the UAE earlier this month – in what could be a foreshadowing of the conclusion of ongoing investigations into the incident.
Gilday also accused Iran-backed “proxy” forces of carrying out a rocket attack in Baghdad’s last week. Russia said it will raise the new deployment in the UN Security Council.