U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday approved sending American troops to bolster Saudi Arabia’s air and missile defenses after the largest-ever attack on the kingdom’s oil facilities, which Washington has squarely blamed on Iran.
“In response to the kingdom’s request, the president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces, which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense,” U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at a news briefing.
“We will also work to accelerate the delivery of military equipment to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to enhance their ability to defend themselves.”
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would not say how many service members are headed to Saudi Arabia, but he characterized the deployment as involving a “moderate” number of troops. He told a reporter it would be “fair to say” it wouldn’t be in the thousands.
“Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo just came back this morning and the Saudis asked for enhanced defensive capabilities, so what we’ll do now is take the president’s decision; I’ll talk with CENTCOM over the weekend ; we’ll talk to our Saudi partners; and we’ll work the details of the deployment. We’ll be able to share that with you next week,” Dunford said at Friday’s briefing.
The United States is looking for other countries to also contribute Saudi Arabia’s defense, Dunford said. Esper said the deployment of U.S. forces is meant to support the United States’ partners in the Middle East, to ensure the free flow of commerce, and to show the United States’ commitment to international rules.
The U.S. forces being sent to Saudi Arabia should be sufficient for now, “But that doesn’t mean there could be additional deployments as needed, based on the changing situation,” Esper said.
When asked if President Trump’s decision to send U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia indicated he had decided not to launch retaliatory military strikes against Iran for the oil refinery attacks, Esper did not answer directly.
“This is the first step that we’re taking with regard to responding to these attacks,” Esper said. “The United States has a robust presence in the [Persian] Gulf already. We bolstered it further in May. So, we feel quite confident in terms of our own defensive posture and our ability to do anything else as necessary.”
“But that’s not where we are right now,” he continued. “Right now, we’re focused on helping the Saudis improve their defenses of that infrastructure.”
The Pentagon said the deployment would involve a moderate number of troops – not numbering thousands – and would be primarily defensive in nature. It also detailed plans to expedite the delivery of military equipment to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
As we have reported earlier that the Pentagon is considering sending additional antimissile batteries, another squadron of jet fighters and added surveillance capabilities to the Middle East to shore up the military’s regional presence in the wake of the attack last weekend on Saudi Arabia’s petroleum industry, U.S. military officials said.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon, and specifically US Central Commander (CENTCOM) Chief Gen. Kenneth Mackenzie requested the deployment of 3 more Patriot batteries to Saudi Arabia, in addition to additional F-22 Raptor fighter jets.
On its part, Fox News reported largely the same news, further citing an anonymous source who claimed that if any more personnel was deployed it would only be “in the hundreds,” since the Middle East already hosts approximately 70,000 US soldiers, anyway.
In 1990, During Gulf War codenamed Operation Desert Shield then-President George H.W. Bush deployed troops to Saudi Arabia in response to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.