WASHINGTON, DC - The United States is sending U.S. troops and air defense equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the Pentagon announced on Friday night.
The move comes after last weekend's attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure which has sharply disrupted global oil supplies. Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by the al-Houthi rebels who are fighting Saudi-led coalition forces in war-ravaged Yemen. The United States however blames Iran for the attacks, while Saudi Arabia has said the weaponry used was of Iranian manufacture, and the origin of the drones and missiles used was from the north, not from the south where Yemen is located.
The announcement of the troops deployment followed a visit to the White House by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford earlier on Friday, and comes after the Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates governments requested the deployment of U.S. troops to their countries.
"Gen. Dunford and I just returned from the White House, where we met with the president and his national security team to discuss options to deter Iran's continued aggressive behavior. As we have seen, the Iranian regime is waging a deliberate campaign to destabilize the Middle East and impose costs on the international economy," Esper told a press conference on Friday.
"In recent months, Iran has increased its military activity through direct attacks and support to its proxies in the region. In the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, which are vital waterways for global commerce, Iran has threatened the safe passage of ships by attacking commercial vessels and illegally seizing a British oil tanker."
Dr Esper went on to outline a number of grievances against the Iranian regime, and noted "indications" were that Iran was responsible for the Saudi Aramco attacks, but fell short of an outright accusation.
"The attack on September 14 against Saudi Arabian oil facilities represents a dramatic escalation of Iranian aggression. It is clear, based on detailed exploitation conducted by Saudi, the United States and other international investigative teams, that the weapons used in the attack were Iranian produced and were not launched from Yemen, as was initially claimed. All indications are that Iran was responsible for the attack," the U.S. defense secretary said.
The Pentagon's top officials outlined how the decision on troops deployment to the Arab countries came about.
"This week, I have been in dialogue with the Saudi defense minister and other partners about this latest attack. To prevent further escalation, Saudi Arabia requested international support to help protect the kingdom's critical infrastructure. The United Arab Emirates has also requested assistance," Dr Esper said.
"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. 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," he said.
The defense secretary said, as the president has made clear, the United States does not seek conflict with Iran.
In response to questions, the defense secretary and chairman of the joint chiefs, said the number of troops to be sen t to Saudi Arabia and the UAE had not yet been determined, but would be discussed with Saudi officials, and more information would be available next week. General Dunford said it was up to him to advise the president on how best the U.S. could meet the request on a sustainable basis.