US President Donald Trump has said he will send about 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East amid heightened tensions with rival Iran.
Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn shortly before departing for a trip to Japan on Friday, Trump said the purpose of this deployment is “mostly protective”, and is meant to increase the security of forces already in the region.
“We want to have protection in the Middle East. We’re going to be sending a relatively small number of troops,” Trump said.
“Right now, I don’t think Iran wants to fight. And I certainly don’t think they want to fight with us,” he added. The Trump administration had notified Congress earlier on Friday about the troop plans.
According to a copy of the notification obtained by the Associated Press news agency, the forces would number “roughly” 1,500 and would deploy in the coming weeks, “with their primary responsibilities and activities being defensive in nature”.
At a Pentagon news briefing on Friday, officials said the US plans to send 900 more forces, including engineers and a fighter aircraft squadron, to the Middle East to bolster US defence and extend the deployment of some 600 personnel manning Patriot missiles.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif reiterated his country’s rejection of the US’s increase in military deployments to the region while on a visit to Pakistan.
Iran “will see the end of Trump, but he will never see the end of Iran,” Zarif was quoted by state news agency Fars as saying during his trip to the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Friday, before the US announced the troop increase.
Zarif held talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and powerful army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
“War is not in anyone’s interest and all sides need to make efforts to keep conflict away from the region,” General Bajwa said, according to a Pakistani military statement.
Earlier this month, the US sent a carrier attack group and bomber taskforce to the Middle East, citing a “credible threat” from Tehran.
The news came after acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan denied earlier reports that the Trump administration was planning to send as many as 10,000 troops to the region.
Shanahan, however, said that sending additional troops was an option they were considering.
Also on Friday, the US military accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) of being directly responsible for attacks on tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) earlier this month, describing it as part of a “campaign” by Tehran driving new US deployments.
“The attack against the shipping in Fujairah we attribute it to the IRGC,” said Rear Admiral Michael Gilday, a director of the Joint Staff, adding that the Pentagon attributed limpet mines used in the attack to the IRGC. He declined to describe “the means of delivery” of the mines.
Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, said that there are many Democrats who are “highly critical” of this announcement.
“[Many] feel that the national security adviser John Bolton in particular has been escalating this – and that there is no imminent threat [from Iran] as the administration has been portraying,” she said.
Tensions between the two countries have soared ever since Trump pulled out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The US president restored punishing American sanctions on Iran last year and tightened them this month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.
Britain, France and Germany, which signed the 2015 deal along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for last year’s US withdrawal from the deal, protect trade, and still dissuade Tehran from quitting an accord designed to prevent it from developing a nuclear bomb.
But Iran’s decision earlier this month to backtrack from some of the plan’s commitments, in response to US measures to cripple its economy, threatens to unravel the deal, under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its uranium enrichment programme in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions. Courtesy:AlJazeera