WASHINGTON: The United States is considering deploying more troops to the Middle East as it looks for ways to enhance the protection of its forces in the turbulent region, acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Thursday.
Shanahan denied news reports that plans call for the deployment of as many as 10,000 more troops to the region, where tensions between the US and Iran are on the rise.
"What we're looking at, are there things that we can do to enhance force protection in the Middle East?" he said, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon. "It may involve sending additional troops."
Earlier, two US officials told Reuters that the US Department of Defense is considering a US military request to send about 5,000 additional troops to the Middle East amid increasing tensions with Iran.
Tehran and Washington have this month been escalating rhetoric against each other, following US President Donald Trump’s decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up the US military presence in the Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats.
The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the request had been made by US Central Command, but added that it was not clear whether the Pentagon would approve the request.
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The Pentagon regularly receives — and declines — requests for additional resources from US combatant commands throughout the world.
One of the officials said the requested troops would be defensive in nature.
This appeared to be the latest request for additional resources in the face of what US officials have said are credible threats from Iran against US forces and American interests in the Middle East.
The Pentagon declined to comment on future plans.
“As a matter of longstanding policy, we are not going to discuss or speculate on potential future plans and requests for forces,” Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said on Wednesday.
Shanahan said on Tuesday that while threats from Iran in the Middle East remained high, deterrence measures taken by the Pentagon had “put on hold” the potential for attacks on Americans.
The US military deployed a carrier strike group, bombers and Patriot missiles to the Middle East earlier this month in response to what Washington said were troubling indications of possible preparations for an attack by Iran.
Trump had warned on Monday that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked US interests in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday, that Iran will not surrender to US pressure and will not abandon its goals even if it is bombed.
Earlier in the day, Iran's top military chief said the standoff between Tehran and Washington was a "clash of wills", warning that any enemy "adventurism" would meet a crushing response, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.