WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is sending 1,500 more troops to the Middle East, as well as more military hardware, to further counter-balance unspecified threats from Iran, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Friday.
“The additional deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility is a prudent defensive measure and intended to reduce the possibility of future hostilities,” Shanahan told Pentagon reporters in a statement. “I remain committed to ensuring U.S. personnel have the force protection resources they need and deserve.”
Along with the 1,500 troops, Shanahan also ordered to the region a Patriot anti-missile battalion — the second such unit sent in two weeks — as well as additional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft; and an engineer element to harden structures for defensive purposes and provide force protection improvements throughout the region; and “a fighter aircraft squadron to provide additional deterrence and depth to our aviation response options,” he said.
He said the unspecified threats still focus on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies.
In addition to more U.S. war elements, Washington is sending significant weapons to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, the State Department said Friday.
“I determined that an emergency exists which requires the immediate sale of the defense articles and defense services…to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan…in order to deter further the malign influence of the Government of Iran,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote in a letter to Congress.
Declaration of an emergency allows the White House to jettison the 30-day Congressional notification period for arms sales. That blocks Congress from the options of putting a hold on any arms deals with countries like Saudi Arabia.
The expedited arms packages for UAE and Saudi Arabia will include surveillance aircraft such as RQ-21 Blackjack drones, aircraft maintenance, training programs, advanced precision kill weapon guidance systems and Javelin anti-tank missiles, CNN reported.
Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger told Pentagon reporters on Friday that the reinforcements would not be sent to Iraq and Syria, but deployed to beef up other locales.
The new director of the Joint Staff, Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, told Pentagon reporters that about 1,000 troops will deploy to the Middle East from outside the theater, while roughly 600 soldiers already in the region will have their deployment extended.
He said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the U.S. recently declared a terrorist organization, was responsible for attack on tankers off the coast of Fujairah, and was caused by IRGC limpet mines.
According to Pentagon officials, there are about 80,000 U.S. forces throughout the Middle East. That number includes about 14,500 in Afghanistan, 5,500 in Iraq, 2,500 in Syria, 10,000 in Kuwait, and 10,000 in Qatar, as well as forces on ships.
Shanahan had said the request for additional reinforcement had come from Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commandant of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), who took command recently from his job as Joint Staff director. Shanahan had alluded to that request on Thursday, in which McKenzie sought between 5,000 and 10,000 additional troops.
He said he informed Congress of the deployment.
Earlier Friday, Shanahan spoke at graduation ceremonies at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. In his speech, he noted that “the most difficult decision is authorizing a mission that I know puts the men and women of our Armed Forces in harm’s way.
“I will continue to give those orders, but only when absolutely necessary. I may have to put your loved ones — those sitting in front of us today — in harm’s way,” he said in his remarks. “My pledge to you and to each of these incredible men and women, and to my commander-in-chief, is this: I will do whatever it takes to ensure those missions make the difference to keep our country safe and free.”
He also told them the toughest enemy is “your shipmate.
“If you do not stand your ground on ethical principles, on excellence in your team, then who can we rely upon to do that? When you see ethical failure — in uniform or out, by military members or others — you must become gravity,” Shanahan said. “You and your commitment must be unshakable, regardless of the circumstances.”
Two weeks ago the White House said there were unspecified, increased threats from Iran, including its proxies, to attack U.S. forces or assets. That caused the evacuation of non-essential personnel from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. consulate in Erbil.
The Pentagon responded by accelerating the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier task force to the Persian Gulf, as well as sending the Patriot anti-missile defense battery. It also deployed a task force of B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf last week and an enhanced amphibious ship contingent.