US President Donald Trump has announced to deploy about 1,500 American troops to the Middle East region for “mostly protective” reasons, amid escalating 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 on Friday 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, with providing details what he really meant by “very talented people”.
The Pentagon said only about 900 of the 1500 troops will be newly deployed. It said the other 600 are already in the Middle East region and will be extended.
The US Defence Department added that the deployment approved by the US president includes Patriot missile batteries, reconnaissance planes and troops.
Members of Congress were notified following a White House meeting on Thursday where the Pentagon’s proposals to bolster US military presence in the Middle East were discussed.
A senior Trump administration official earlier on Friday told CNN that Trump has approved the deployment of “additional military resources” to the Persian Gulf.
The US began reinforcing its presence in the Persian Gulf region this month in response to alleged threats from Iran. Tehran has slammed the US move as psychological warfare.
But only on Thursday, Trump said he did not think additional American troops were needed in the Middle East.
“I don’t think we’re going to need them,” he told reporters. “I really don’t. I would certainly send troops if we need them.”
Earlier on Thursday, acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan confirmed that the Pentagon was considering deploying additional American troops to the Middle East.
“What we’re looking at is: Are there things that we can do to enhance force protection in the Middle East?” Shanahan said speaking to reporters outside the Pentagon. “It may involve sending additional troops.”
However, Shanahan rejected media reports claiming specific numbers of troops were being considered by the Pentagon, saying: “As soon as there’s a change, I’ll give you an update.”
US officials speaking to various media outlets on Wednesday said the White House would decide whether to approve the plan to send about 5,000 troops to the Middle East while some media outlets reported that up to 10,000 could be deployed.
“I got up this morning and read that we were sending 10,000 troops to the Middle East, and then I read more recently that there was 5,0000,” Shanahan said. “There is no 10,000 and there is no 5,000.”
Trump has resorted to blacklisting the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in the wake of withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and tightening sanctions against Tehran.
Iran has time and again asserted that it is not seeking war but stands ready to defend its interests in the region.
Iran has played down Washington’s belligerent posture, ruling out the possibility of war between the US and Iran.
There were, meanwhile, reports that the US president is using legal loopholes to sell even more arms to Saudi Arabia amid tensions with Iran.
Trump has said he does not want to go to war with Iran, but has also threatened to use military force against the country.
On Sunday, he threatened to destroy Iran if the Islamic Republic attacked its interests.
His most recent tweet appears to be a shift in tone just days after he said he was interested in diplomacy and wanted to avoid war.
“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” he tweeted.