The Pentagon will deploy U.S. forces to bolster defenses in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates following drone and missile attacks on two Saudi oil facilities that roiled global energy markets, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday.
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Esper said the U.S. military detachment would be “defensive in nature” and composed of air and missile defense units. The deployment will consist of hundreds of troops, not thousands, he added.
“The United States has a responsibility to protect our citizens and our interests in the region, and the international community has a responsibility to protect the global economy and international rules and norms,” Esper said at a press conference. “All of this is threatened by Iran’s significant escalation of violence.”
President Trump and U.S. military officials said Iran was responsible for the attacks, which interrupted Saudi production operations and caused a massive spike in crude oil prices. Earlier Friday, Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin imposed fresh sanctions against Iran’s national bank.
Trump tweeted last Sunday night that U.S. forces were “locked and loaded” to launch retaliatory strikes, though he signaled a preference for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian dispute. Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said a U.S. or Saudi strike would result in “all-out war” in the region.
Esper said the troop deployment was “the first step we are taking,” adding that additional maneuvers were possible in the near future. He reiterated that weapons used in the attack on Saudi facilities were Iranian-made and that the nation was responsible for the strike.