Trump cagey on Middle East troops amid reported deployment

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WASHINGTON: The United States (US) President Donald Trump declined to confirm or deny Thursday reports he is mulling the possibility of sending thousands more troops to the Middle East to counter alleged threats from Iran.

“There might be a threat and if there is a threat, it will be met very strongly. But we’ll be announcing whatever we may be doing – may or may not be doing,” Trump said when asked about additional troop deployments.

Anonymous defense officials told the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that the president is considering sending 14,000 service members to the region to deter what they called growing threats from Iran.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood said Wednesday that the US remains concerned about potential Iranian aggression, according to The Hill website.

Pentagon denies US mulling 14,000 more troops for Middle East

“We also continue to see indications … potential Iranian aggression could occur,” Rood was quoted as telling reporters in Washington. “We’ve sent very clear and blunt signals to the Iranian government about the potential consequences of aggression.”

Iran has been mired in mass demonstrations that it blames on foreign powers, particularly the US, for allegedly fomenting.

Demonstrations broke out across Iran on Nov 15 after the government imposed petrol rationing and raised fuel prices by at least 50%.

Over 2,000 people have been arrested during the demonstrations, Tehran governor Anoushirvan Mohseni-Bandpey said Tuesday.

While Iranian authorities have not publicly acknowledged any deaths from the protests, Amnesty International said at least 208 protesters have been killed.

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Trump continued to criticise the Islamic Republic for the deaths, saying while hosting UN permanent representatives at the White House that Iranian authorities are “killing protesters”.

Tensions have flared between Washington and Tehran since Trump chose in May 2018 to unilaterally remove the US from a nuclear pact, world powers struck with Iran that provided the Islamic Republic with billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for unprecedented curbs on its nuclear program.

Trump has since gone on to impose crippling sanctions on Iran and its top officials, further angering Tehran as the US president seeks to bring it back to the negotiating table.

Iran downed a US drone in June that it says violated its airspace, while the Trump administration has maintained it was above international waters when it was downed.

The US further blamed Iran for coordinating drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil production facilities in September.