Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said late Friday that small units of U.S. troops would deploy to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates with air defense capabilities, likely Patriot missile batteries, to protect against Iranian threats to commerce and oil production in the region.
"It's fair to say not thousands" would deploy, Dunford said at a Pentagon news conference, indicating the number would be in the hundreds. The presser followed a White House meeting with President Donald Trump and his national security team at which Esper and Dunford provided military "options" to counter Iran.
Esper went through a list of Iranian provocations in the region, culminating with the Sept. 14 attack with drones and cruise missiles on Saudi Arabian oil production facilities allegedly carried out by the Tehran regime or its proxies, and said a limited and defensive response was required.
Esper said Trump, who earlier announced additional economic sanctions on Iran, had approved the deployment to "protect our citizens and interests in the region."
The announcement by Esper and Dunford eased concerns that the U.S. was considering a retaliatory strike that could spark a regional war. But, Esper said, other "options" were under consideration should they become necessary.
"This is a first step" in sending a "clear message that the U.S. supports our partners in the region," Esper said.
Dunford declined to discuss details on the defensive assets being sent to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, and said they would be worked out over the weekend with U.S. Central Command.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.