The U.S. military is dispatching an undetermined number of additional forces to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to beef up air and missile defenses after blaming Iran for recent attacks on Saudi oil facilities, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon Friday.
“To prevent further escalation Saudi Arabia requested international support to help protect the kingdom’s critical infrastructure,” Esper said. “The United Arab Emirates has also requested assistance. 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.
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“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 added.
The announcement followed an hourslong meeting in the Oval Office with President Donald Trump in which Pentagon leaders outlined a series of options to respond to the drone and missile attacks attributed to Iran or its proxies in the region.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters the number of American personnel needed is still being determined but said it would be a “moderate deployment,” and likely “not thousands” of troops.
“We haven’t decided on specific units,” he said. “It’s now my job to come back to the secretary with details of what we believe would meet the Saudis’ requirements.”
He added he will do that “early next week” following a recommendation from U.S. Central Command, the military headquarters responsible for the Middle East.
But the new forces will “mitigate the risk of swarms of drones or other attacks that could come from Iran,” Dunford explained.
The U.S. will also encourage other nations to contribute, Esper and Dunford said.
They both blamed Iran for the attack that crippled Saudi oil production last weekend — not Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, which Saudi Arabia and UAE have been targeting from the air in a long-running civil war.
“…The weapons used in the attack were Iranian-produced and were not launched from Yemen as was originally claimed,” said Esper, noting that “all indications are that Iran was responsible for the attack.”
But the did not provide any details to support that conclusion.
“Regardless of where you think it came from, the fact is,” he added, “the Saudis were attacked by both drones and cruise missiles and are still vulnerable to attack.”
The new forces will join about 500 U.S. troops dispatched in July after Iran was blamed for shooting down a U.S. spy drone over international waters and seized commercial ships. That marked the first major deployment of U.S. forces since the Pentagon withdrew from an airbase in the country in 2003.
Small numbers of U.S. advisers have remained in the intervening years to help train Saudi forces with training.
Esper would not rule out additional steps, including military action against Iran.
“As the president has made clear, the United States does not seek conflict with Iran. That said, we have many other military options available should they be necessary,” he said. “This is the first step we are taking in response to these attacks.”