The US announced the deployment of additional American military forces to Saudi Arabia to bolster the kingdom’s defences after the September 14 attack on its oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh blame on Iran.
The deployment, includes fighter squadrons, an air expeditionary wing and air defence personnel, the Pentagon said. Together with the 200 forces to Saudi Arabia announced last month, the deployment totals about 3,000 troops, it said.
US-Iran tensions have risen to new highs since May last year, when the Trump administration withdrew from a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran putting limits on its nuclear programme in exchange for easing sanctions.
As Trump reinstated US sanctions, increasing pressure on the Iranian economy, there were attacks Washington and close allies blamed on Iran, including the attack on the world’s biggest crude oil-processing facility. Iran denies responsibility.
In a bid to better shield Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said it was sending two additional Patriot batteries and one Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system (THAAD).
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper told reporters the deployment was designed to deter Iran.
“We thought it important to continue to deploy forces to deter and defend and send the message to the Iranians: Do not strike another sovereign state, do not threaten American interests, American forces, or we will respond,” Esper told reporters.
Trump said the United States would not bear the expense of the deployment. “Saudi Arabia, at my request, agreed to pay us for everything we’re doing,” he told reporters.
Some Trump Republican allies called for retaliatory strikes, which the president to dare declined to carry out.
It is unclear whether some new announced troops might replace other American forces expected to depart in the coming weeks or months.
The Pentagon has yet to announce, for example, whether it will replace the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its strike group when it wraps up its Middle East deployment.
Esper declined to say whether the carrier, with thousands of personnel and massive firepower, would be replaced.
The deployment is part of what the US describes as defensive moves following the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities last month, which rattled global energy markets and exposed major gaps in Saudi Arabia’s air defences.
Iran responded to US troop deployments this year with apprehension. It denies responsibility for the attack on Saudi Arabia as well as attacks on oil tankers.
The additional deployment comes as members of Congress question the longstanding US-Saudi security alliance and backed several efforts – which have failed so far – to stop Trump selling arms to the kingdom without congressional approval or providing support to the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen.
Criticism of US-Saudi ties under Trump increased last year after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Eleven Saudi officials are on trial in Riyadh for the murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.