The United States announced on Friday the deployment of 1,500 troops to the Middle East, describing it as an effort to bolster defences against Iran as it accused the country's Revolutionary Guards of direct responsibility for this month's tanker attacks. US President Donald Trump publicly announced the 1,500 figure, which had been previously reported by Reuters, and described it as a defensive measure. The troops include personnel manning missile defence systems, aerial surveillance to spot threats and engineers to fortify defences.
"We want to have protection in the Middle East. We're going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective," Trump said as he left the White House for a trip to Japan. The deployment marks a reversal of sorts for Trump, who only on Thursday said he thought more troops were unnecessary. Trump has sought to detangle the US military from open-ended conflicts in places like Syria and Afghanistan.
The deployment is relatively small, compared with the about 70,000 American troops now stationed across a region that stretches from Egypt to Afghanistan. In addition, some 600 of the 1,500 "new" troops are already in the Middle East manning Patriot missiles, and will see their deployments extended. Eager to avoid escalation with Iran amid already heightened tensions, Pentagon officials stressed the defensive nature of the deployment in a news briefing and noted that none of the troops would be heading to hot spots like Iraq or Syria.