The Trump administration, facing rising tensions with Iran, plans to reinforce its military presence in the Middle East by sending another few thousand forces to the region to step up missile defense and surveillance, according to U.S. officials.
The decision to send the additional forces to U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations across the Middle East, was made late Thursday during a meeting at the White House between President Donald Trump and top Pentagon leaders, the officials said.
Ahead of the meeting, acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan said the purpose of any additional troops would be to ensure the protection of U.S. forces and avoid the risk of Iranian miscalculation that could lead to a broader conflict.
“Our job is deterrence. This is not about war,” Shanahan said. “We have a mission there in the Middle East: Freedom of navigation, counterterrorism in Syria and Iraq, defeating al-Qaida in Yemen, and the security of Israel and Jordan.”
Trump, speaking at the White House before the meeting, said he didn’t think it would be necessary to send more troops but added, “if we need it, we’ll be there in whatever numbers we need.”
The meeting, according to U.S. officials, persuaded the president to approve a relatively modest uptick in the number of American forces stationed in the Middle East to bring a more substantive military posture to the region as tensions mount between Washington and Tehran.
Neither the Pentagon nor the White House immediately responded to requests for comment.
The type of forces the Pentagon is sending to the region doesn’t indicate any impending ground offensive by the United States. U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the new troop deployment had yet to be announced, said the Pentagon would dispatch about 2,000 forces to the region with additional Patriot missile defense capabilities and surveillance and reconnaissance units.
The decision comes as the Trump administration steps up pressure on Iran after pulling out of the 2015 nuclear accord negotiated by President Barack Obama. Since then, the Trump administration has increased sanctions, designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization and declined to renew waivers that allowed eight countries to buy Iranian oil.
The moves have prompted a backlash by Tehran, where President Hassan Rouhani has warned the nation will begin enriching uranium above the limits in the nuclear accord if the nation doesn’t receive sanctions relief in the coming month and a half.
In recent weeks, U.S. officials have cited new indications of possible Iranian attacks on American interests as a reason to send the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, four B-52 bombers and Patriot missile defense batteries to the region. The State Department also ordered the evacuation of all non-emergency personnel from Iraq, where Iranian proxy forces operate.
U.S. officials believe that Iran was behind sabotage attacks on four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates this month. Iran has denied involvement in the incidents, which damaged the ships. Two of the ships were Saudi Arabian, one was from the U.A.E. and the fourth was Norwegian.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Paul Sonne, Missy Ryan ·