US to send 1,500 troops to Middle East amid rising tensions with Iran

President Trump announced Friday that about 1,500 additional US troops will be deployed to the Middle East – mostly in a protective role — amid escalating tensions with Iran.

“We’re going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective. It’ll be about 1,500 people,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn as he headed off on a trip to Japan.
“We want to have protection in the Middle East. Some very talented people are going to the Middle East right now. And we’ll see what happens,” he added.

On Monday, the president threatened to meet provocations by Iran with “great force,” though he also tempered his bellicose stance by saying he’s also willing to negotiate.

US officials earlier said members of Congress were notified of the plan after a White House meeting Thursday to discuss the Pentagon’s proposals to boost the military presence in the region.

Officials had said that Pentagon planners had outlined plans that could have sent up to 10,000 military reinforcements to the Mideast.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan later said planners hadn’t settled on a specific number.

The US began reinforcing its presence in the Persian Gulf this month in response to what it said was a threat from Iran.

Ahead of Thursday’s meeting with Trump and top Pentagon officials, Shanahan said the purpose of any additional forces would be to ensure the protection of US troops 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, according to The Washington Post. “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.”

US officials said the meeting persuaded Trump to approve a relatively modest increase in the number of US forces stationed in the region as tensions mount between Washington and Tehran.

The White House has been increasing the pressure on Tehran after pulling out of the 2015 nuclear accord negotiated by President Obama.

“Right now, I don’t think Iran wants to fight, and I certainly don’t think they want to fight with us,” Trump said Friday at the White House, “but they cannot have nuclear weapons and under Obama’s horrible agreement they would have had nuclear weapons within five or six years.”

The Trump administration has increased sanctions, designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard as an international terrorist organization and refused to renew waivers that allowed several countries to buy Iranian oil.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed back by warning that the nation will begin enriching uranium above the limits in the nuclear accord if Tehran doesn’t receive sanctions relief soon.

Amid concerns of possible Iranian attacks on US interests, the Trump administration ordered the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, four B-52 bombers and Patriot missile defense batteries to the region.

The State Department also ordered all non-emergency personnel to leave Iraq, where Iranian proxy forces operate.

Washington believes that Iran was behind sabotage attacks on four oil tankers – two Saudi Arabian, one from the UAE and one from Norway — off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Iran has denied involvement in the incidents.

With Post Wires

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