Even more US troops and equipment cannot protect Saudi oil assets, Pentagon...

Even more US troops and equipment cannot protect Saudi oil assets, Pentagon admits

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Joe Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, prepare to brief Pentagon reporters on new U.S. deployments to the Middle East. (Tom Squitieri/TMN)

WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia’s oil fields and production facilities are beyond full defensive protection should Iran maximize its assets in any attack, the Pentagon’s top leaders have acknowledged.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Joe Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters that new deployments of U.S. troops and assets to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will be finalized today or Tuesday in an effort to enhance air and missile defense in the region.

Whether those additions will work remains tenuous, they admitted — especially if Iran would launch swarms of drones at very great distances without any air defense detection of the incoming attack.

“You know, no single system is going to be able to defend against a threat like that, but a layered system of defensive capabilities would mitigate the risk of swarms of drones or other attacks that may come from Iran,” Dunford said.

The Iran crisis takes center stage starting today in New York, where world leaders meet for the opening of the new session of the United Nations. Meanwhile, Dunford, who leaves his post as the top uniformed military official next Monday, is expected to begin today to provide specifics of the deployment decision.

The Sept. 14 strikes on the world’s largest crude-processing plant and oil field forced  Saudi Arabia to temporarily shut down half of its production operations.

“That’s fair to say, not thousands [of troops],” Dunford said. “We would say at this point, a moderate deployment.”

Dunford reiterated that the Pentagon constantly assesses the need for the region balanced against requirements elsewhere in the world.

“We have to continually assess that — we think for now, that would be sufficient, but that doesn’t mean there could not be additional deployments as needed, based on the changing situation,” Dunford told reporters.

None of the new forces or equipment will reach the region for weeks, the two men acknowledged.

“The United States has a robust presence in the Gulf already. We bolstered it further in May, so we feel quite confident in terms of our own defensive posture and our ability to do anything else as necessary,” Esper said. “But that’s not where we are right now; right now we’re focused on helping the Saudis improve their defenses of that infrastructure.”

Esper said he expects other nations to assist in the bolstering of defenses in the two nations. He did not name any other participants.

“We will also work to accelerate the delivery of military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to enhance their ability to defend themselves,” Esper said.

The U.S. has had limited success in getting allies to join its military efforts in the region. Only four nations are supporting the Pentagon’s effort to have an international fleet escort commercial ships in the Persian Gulf region: Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia signed up only after it had its oil facilities attacked.

Meanwhile, China, Russia and Iran plan a joint naval drill in international waters, according to news reports.

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