U.S. to send 1,500 more troops to Mideast to counter Iran

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By David S. Cloud

WASH­ING­TON — The Pen­tagon said Fri­day it was send­ing as many as 1,500 more troops to the Mid­dle East in re­sponse to what of­fi­cials de­scribed as a “cam­paign” of low-level at­tacks di­rected by Iran on U.S. al­lies in the Mid­dle East.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said the forces, which in­clude a fighter squadron, manned and un­manned re­con­nais­sance air­craft, en­gi­neer­ing units and ad­di­tional Pa­triot anti-mis­sile bat­ter­ies, were “rel­a­tively small” and would have a “mostly pro­tec­tive” role aimed at de­ter­ring Iran.

“Right now, I don’t think Iran wants to fight, and I cer­tainly don’t think they want to fight with us,” Trump told re­porters at the White House be­fore leav­ing on a trip to Ja­pan.

The re­in­force­ments are the lat­est es­ca­la­tion in a tense se­ries of mil­i­tary moves by Wash­ing­ton and Tehran that have in­creased ten­sions in the Per­sian Gulf and raised the dan­ger of a mil­i­tary clash.

At the Pen­tagon, of­fi­cials sharp­ened claims that Iran had in­cited the cri­sis, as­sert­ing with­out pro­vid­ing ev­i­dence that re­cent at­tacks on four oil tankers and a Saudi pipe­line, and a rocket at­tack in Bagh­dad, were or­dered by Iran’s top lead­ers and car­ried out by its forces or prox­ies.

“We be­lieve with a high de­gree of con­fi­dence that this stems back to the lead­er­ship of Iran at the high­est lev­els,” Vice Adm. Michael Gil­day, the head of the Pen­tagon’s Joint Staff, said at a news con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing the de­ploy­ments.

He said that U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies “at­tribute” sab­o­tage at­tacks that dam­aged four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emi­rates this month to Iran’s Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps us­ing “lim­pet mines,” a naval mu­ni­tion at­tached to a tar­get by mag­nets.

Gil­day’s com­ments were the first time a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial had pub­licly blamed Iran for the tanker at­tacks.

But he de­clined to de­scribe what ev­i­dence the U.S. had link­ing Iran to the at­tack or ev­i­dence back­ing up the U.S. claim that Iran’s top lead­ers had been plan­ning and pre­par­ing for other at­tacks.

“I can’t re­veal the sources, other than to say we have very high con­fi­dence,” he said when pressed by re­porters to de­scribe the ev­i­dence.

For­mer mil­i­tary of­fi­cers warned that the ab­sence of com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nels be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Tehran, and the mixed sig­nals com­ing from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, heighten the po­ten­tial dan­ger of armed con­flict.

If there is a “shoot­ing in­ci­dent,” re­tired U.S. Navy Vice Ad­mi­ral John Miller said, “there is no com­man­derto-com­man­der way to dis­cuss the in­ci­dent, to de-es­ca­late the in­ci­dent.” Un­til his re­tire­ment in 2015, Miller served as com­man­der of naval forces in U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, which op­er­ates in the Per­sian Gulf.

Miller spoke Fri­day at a fo­rum on Iran at the Wash­ing­ton In­sti­tute for Near East Pol­icy.

The ad­di­tional forces, which will be­gin ar­riv­ing in com­ing weeks, were sought by Gen. Kenneth F. McKen­zie Jr., the top com­man­der of U.S. forces in the Mid­dle East, only weeks af­ter the Pen­tagon or­dered the Abra­ham Lin­coln car­rier strike force, four B-52 bombers and a Pa­triot anti-mis­sile bat­tal­ion to the re­gion.

That was in re­sponse to what of­fi­cials said was in­tel­li­gence show­ing Iran had put cruise mis­siles aboard small boats. The U.S. has not re­leased satel­lite pho­to­graphs back­ing up that claim.

Gil­day and act­ing As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary of De­fense Katie Wheel­barger, who joined the news con­fer­ence, said U.S. of­fi­cials warned Iran through diplo­matic chan­nels against car­ry­ing out any at­tacks, while stress­ing that the U.S. was not seek­ing a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion.

“We are seek­ing to avoid hos­til­i­ties, and we are not seek­ing war with Iran,” said Wheel­barger. “We have been as clear as we pos­si­bly can in that re­gard.”

McKen­zie sought ad­di­tional forces af­ter in­tel­li­gence sug­gested Iran was still keep­ing forces at high alert.

Shana­han said in a state­ment that he had ap­proved the re­quest af­ter brief­ing Trump on Thurs­day “to im­prove our force pro­tec­tion and safe­guard U.S. forces given the on­go­ing threat posed by Ira­nian forces, in­clud­ing the (Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard) and its prox­ies.”

The engi­neers would “pro­vide force pro­tec­tion im­prove­ments through­out the re­gion,” while the fighter squadron would “pro­vide ad­di­tional de­ter­rence and depth to our avi­a­tion re­sponse op­tions.”

McKen­zie is es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in the Pa­triot bat­ter­ies to help de­fend against po­ten­tial Ira­nian mis­sile at­tacks on U.S. troops, fa­cil­i­ties and al­lies in the re­gion, of­fi­cials said.

But he played down the scale of the U.S. de­ploy­ment, say­ing the ac­tual num­ber of new troops go­ing to the Mid­dle East was closer to 900 than 1,500. That’s be­cause the Pa­triot bat­ter­ies ap­proved by the Pen­tagon have been in the re­gion un­til re­cently, and the lat­est or­der merely ex­tends their de­ploy­ment.

ALEX WONG/GETTY IM­AGES

Act­ing U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Pa­trick Shana­han, left, speaks to mem­bers of the me­dia as Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, right, lis­tens af­ter a closed brief­ing for Se­nate mem­bers on Tues­day on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Act­ing Sec­re­tary Shana­han and Sec­re­tary Pom­peo joined Chair­man of Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dun­ford to brief Con­gres­sional mem­bers on Iran.

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