WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is sending more weapons and troops to Saudi Arabia, responding again to Riyadh’s plea for the United States to do more to confront Iran.
In a statement to Pentagon reporters that was later augmented by Defense Secretary Mark Esper at a news conference, the Defense Department said it will send two fighter squadrons, one air expeditionary wing (AEW), two Patriot batteries, and one Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD).
Taken together with other deployments, that constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorized within the last month, Esper told reporters.
The new deployments will encompass 2,800 of those new 3,000 troops.
The deployments to Saudi Arabia come as the Pentagon is standing aside as Turkish troops continue an assault againt Kurds in northern Syria. The Kurdish troops are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces that were land troops in the anti-ISIS coalition and are a U.S. ally.
“Since May, the Department of Defense has increased the number of forces by approximately 14,000 to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility as an investment into regional security,” Esper told reporters.
The recent deployments were in response to the September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities, which Washington, Riyadh and others have pinned on Iran.
“We have been concerned, based on what we hear from partners and allies in the region, about continued Iranian behavior,” Esper told reporters. “There are things that we pick up, if you will through intelligence, that we thought it was important to deploy forces to deter and defend and to send the message to the Iranians do not strike another sovereign state.”
The makeup of the final force in Saudi Arabia was not clear, as some troops and assets deployed earlier this year may be rotating out. Esper was asked specifically about the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln carrier group, now in the Persian Gulf, and if it wil stay or be replaced.
Esper demurred in response.
Instead, Esper said the Pentagon is now following a strategy of “operational flexibility” to keep adversaries off-balance and unclear as to where and U.S. military deployments will occur. He said the the U.S. can “quickly proved increased capability in the region if necessary.”
— By Tom Squitieri