on Friday approved the deployment of U.S. troops and missile defense equipment to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) in response to an attack on Saudi oil facilities that the Trump administration has blamed on Iran.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper
made the announcement at the Pentagon, saying “all indications are that Iran was responsible for the attack” on the two Saudi oil refineries, which were hit by drones and cruise missiles last weekend.
Saudi Arabia as well as its neighbor the UAE have since requested international support to deter further attacks.
“In response to the kingdom’s request, the president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces, which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense,” Esper said at the Pentagon.
Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, who had just returned from presenting Trump with a range of military options on Iran, would not say how many troops would be deployed, but acknowledged it would not number in the thousands.
The Defense secretary said the deployment is meant to “send a clear message that the United States supports our partners in the region … ensure the free flow of resources necessary to support the global economy” and to “demonstrate commitment to upholding the international rules based order that we have long called on Iran to obey.”
Esper added that while the president has made clear that the United States does not seek conflict with Iran, “we have many other military options available should they be necessary.”
In addition, the Pentagon “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.”
Dunford said he will talk with leaders from U.S. Central Command and Saudi partners over the weekend to “work the details of the deployment.”
“We’ll be able to share that with you next week. We haven’t decided on specific units,” he said.
Asked why he believes the deployment will be enough to deter Iran from further attacks, Esper said that “given the state of play now … we think for now that would be sufficient.”
“But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be additional deployments as needed based on the changing situation,” he added.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed they are responsible for the Saudi attacks, while Tehran has denied it was involved.
Esper said that after a detailed investigation by Saudi Arabia, the United States and other international investigative teams, “it is clear” that weapons used in the attack “were Iranian produced and were not launched from Yemen as was initially claimed.”
Trump had in recent days indicated the administration believed Iran was behind the incident, but officials had refrained from saying so definitively.
Brian Hook, the administration’s special envoy for Iran, told CBS News earlier Friday that Iran was responsible for the attacks but that officials were still working to determine where the attack originated from.
The administration on Friday morning slapped new sanctions on Iran’s central bank in response to the bombings of the Saudi oil fields. But he has been reticent to commit to additional military engagement, pointing to prolonged conflicts in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.