The Pentagon will deploy 1,500 troops to the Middle East, including missile defense and surveillance units, a senior official said Friday, in the Trump administration's latest step to address what it says are increased threats from Iran.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he had approved U.S. Central Command's request to deploy a Patriot missile battalion, intelligence and surveillance aircraft, a squadron of fighter planes and engineering capabilities to "improve our force protection and safeguard U.S. forces given the ongoing threat posed by Iranian forces … and its proxies."
The decision was made after a meeting late Thursday at the White House between President Donald Trump and top Pentagon leaders.
In recent days Shanahan has said that any new troop deployments would serve 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," he said Thursday. "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."
Speaking outside the White House, Trump said that "a relatively small number of troops — mostly protective" — were being sent to the region.
The type of forces the Pentagon is deploying does not indicate any impending U.S. ground offensive. Patriot missiles are designed to track and shoot down incoming missiles.
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 terrorist organization and declined to renew waivers that allowed eight countries to buy Iranian oil.
In recent weeks, U.S. officials have cited new indications of possible Iranian attacks on U.S. 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 ordered the evacuation of all nonemergency personnel from Iraq, where Iranian proxy forces operate.
U.S. officials say they 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 United Arab Emirates and the fourth was Norwegian.