WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is sending a Patriot missile battery and an amphibious ship unti with Marines, landing craft and rotary aircraft to the Persian Gulf to give Pentagon further options against an ongoing threat from Iran, defense officials said Friday.
Iran’s potentially hostile actions include the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) moving missiles and missile hardware to small dhow ships, a tactic used by Iranian proxies in previosu attacks, one senior defense official told Pentagon reporters.
The potential Iranian threat is on land and sea, including against U.S. troops in Iraq and actions by Shia militia, the defense official said.
In April, the White House designated the IRGC as a terrorist group. In return, Tehran declared U.S. forces in the region as a terrorist organization.
The senior official said the new deployments were approved last week, when verbal authorization was given to send four B-52 bombers to the region and accelerated the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier task force to the area.
The Arlington “provides a high quality command and control capability and improved interoperability with our allies and partners in the region,” the Pentagon official said. It carries Marines, amphibious vehicles, conventional landing craft and rotary aircraft.
A Patriot batter is a long-range, all weather air defense system designed to counter tacical ballistic missiles, cruise missile and advanced aircraft.
The amphibious ship is the USS Arlington. It will replace the USS Ft. McHenry, part of the USS Kearsarge strike force. The remainder of that force will remain in the region.
“It’s important that Iran understand that an attack on Americans or its interests will be met with an appropriate response,” Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told Pentagon reporters Friday, before the new deployments were announced.
“We’re in the Middle East to defeat terrorism, fight and build security. The clandestine insurgencies are really what we are there to address, but we will protect ourselves. That’s very important…we will position ourselves,” he said. “We will protect our interests. But we’re there to build security. We’re there to address violent extremism and that’s our focus.”
The new moves by the Pentagon come as the U.S. Maritime Administration, part of the Transportation Department, issued a rare alert, advising U.S. commercial ships transiting through the Middle East waterways could be targeted by Iran.
“Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or U.S. military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, or the Persian Gulf,” the Maritime Administration said in a release. “Reporting indicates heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and interests.”
Four B-52 bombers ordered to the gulf last weekend arrived Friday. At the same time, the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike forces exited the Suez Canal into the Red Sea, clearing its way to churn forward to the Persian Gulf region.
Neither the White House, State Department or the Pentagon has produced outlines or evidence detailing the alleged threat from Iran.
The Maritime Administration urged U.S.-flagged ships to alert the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet at least two days before sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, which is the entrance to the Persian Gulf from the Indian Ocean.
NBC News reported on Thursday that Iran gave the “green light” to its proxies to attack U.S. forces.
Iran denied all of the allegations and on Friday brushed off the U.S. show of force.
“Their billion [-dollar] fleet can be destroyed with one missile,” Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabai-Nejad, one of about 80 clerics on the Iranian Assembly of Experts, told Iran’s state-run ISNA news agency.