The Trump administration is considering a significant expansion of the US military footprint in the Middle East, including dozens more ships, other military hardware and as many as 14,000 additional troops to counter Iran, US officials said on Wednesday, Israel National News reported, citing The Wall Street Journal.
The deployment could double the number of US military personnel who have been sent to the region since the start of a troop buildup in May. President Donald Trump is expected to make a decision on the new deployments as soon as this month, those officials said.
Trump has long sought to exit foreign entanglements and avoid new conflicts. But on Iran—and partly at the behest of Israel—he is convinced of the need to counter the threat his aides say Tehran poses, the officials said. He also could approve a smaller US deployment, the officials added.
The report comes amid growing fear among US military and other administration officials that an attack on US interests and forces could leave the US with few options in the region. By sending additional military resources to the region, the officials said, the administration would be presenting a more credible deterrent to Tehran, which is blamed for a series of attacks, including one in September against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. Iran has denied involvement.
The new US deployment also would be designed as a deterrent against possible Iranian retaliation for mounting sanctions under the administration’s economic-pressure campaign.
The additional forces would join the roughly 14,000 US service members sent to the region since May, when American intelligence analysts identified a threat from Iran and the US Central Command commander, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, requested additional ships, missile-defense platforms and troops.
In October, Trump abruptly announced that he had ordered a full troop withdrawal drew angry rebukes at home and abroad, with critics saying it could allow a resurgence of ISIS.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper subsequently said that the US is mulling the possibility of maintaining a small ground presence near the oil fields in the area.
Earlier on Wednesday, the No. 3 official in the Pentagon, John Rood, warned that Iran could take “aggressive action” in the near-future as Iran-US tensions escalate.
“There are indications that Iran could take aggressive action in the future,” Rood told reporters Wednesday. He did not elaborate on the kind of aggressive action the Pentagon expected.