WASHINGTON - The Pentagon will further beef up its military assets in the Persian Gulf to counter what U.S. officials have called "credible" threats from Iran, President Donald Trump said Friday.
Trump said he planned to send about 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East. A U.S. official said earlier Friday that up to 3,000 troops had been under consideration.
Speaking to reporters as he departed the White House for a weekend trip to Japan, the president described the troops as performing mostly defensive duties. A U.S. official said most of the troops will be involved in intelligence gathering and manning missile batteries.
"We're going to be sending a relatively small number of troops - mostly protective," Trump said.
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan said Friday that he approved the deployment of additional resources to the Middle East "to improve our force protection and safeguard U.S. forces given the ongoing threat posed by Iranian forces," including Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxies.
"The deployment will include approximately 1,500 U.S. military personnel and consist of a Patriot battalion to defend against missile threats," as well as additional intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance aircraft, and a fighter aircraft squadron.
"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 said. "I remain committed to ensuring U.S. personnel have the force protection resources they need and deserve."
The move comes as the administration is seeking to increase pressure on Iran.
The Pentagon had considered sending as many as 5,000 troops to the Middle East, according to the U.S. official. By Thursday, that number had dropped to 3,000, and the decision to send roughly 1,500 was made Friday, the source said. Most of the forces have defensive specialties, including anti-aircraft and missile defenses.
The decision to send more military assets comes shortly after the Pentagon sped up the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, along with B-52 bombers, Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and the amphibious assault ship USS Arlington, to the Persian Gulf. Those assets were requested by Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, in response to U.S. intelligence information indicating that Iran may be preparing an attack on American troops or other interests in the region.
Shanahan and other Trump administration officials havesaid the previous military deployments are purely defensive and not intended to provoke a war with Iran.
"Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation," Shanahan told reporters on Wednesday after briefing members of Congress. "We do not want the situation to escalate. This is about deterrence, not about war."
Some lawmakers fear the Trump administration's escalating military stance toward Iran could spark to a military conflict even if that's not the intention.
"This escalation doesn't get us out of our decades long, seemingly endless wars Mr. President," Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a tweet Friday directed at President Donald Trump.
"Trust your instincts and follow what you ran on, not the neocons around who want to repeat past mistakes," said Paul, presumably referring to Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, a hawk who has long advocated for regime change in Iran, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, another Iran hardliner in the administration.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pentagon to increase military deployments in Middle East amid rising tensions with Iran