Thousands More US Troops Deploying to Middle East in Response to Iranian Threats

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82nd Airborne Division paratroopers deploy to Middle East.
U.S. Army Paratroopers assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, deploy from Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina, Jan. 1, 2020. (U.S. Army/Capt. Robyn J. Haake)

Thousands more U.S. troops will deploy to the Mideast in response to Iranian threats to avenge the killing of Quds Force Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad's International Airport on the order of President Donald Trump, the Pentagon said Friday.

The entire 1st Brigade Combat Team of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, which constitutes the Immediate Response Force at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, "was alerted to prepare for deployment and is now being deployed," a Pentagon spokesperson said.

"The brigade will deploy to Kuwait as an appropriate and precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities," the spokesperson said in a statement.

Elements of the 1st Brigade could also be sent to bolster security at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad following their arrival in Kuwait, according to sources.

Related: Lawmakers, Experts Fear Retaliation Following US Strike on Top Iran Commander

On Wednesday, about 750 paratroopers from 82nd's 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, boarded C-17 Globemaster aircraft en route to Kuwait following the storming of the Baghdad Embassy's perimeter. The brigade has a total of about 4,000 troops.

At an off-camera Pentagon briefing Thursday, both Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said that additional deployments were under consideration.

Esper said that about 100 Marines in Kuwait were initially sent to back up embassy security but added: "We are prepared to reinforce other positions throughout the region as required over the coming days."

Milley said, "There's a variety of forces that are alerted and prepared, if necessary" to deploy, "depending on the situation as we move forward."

Both Milley and Esper spoke before the U.S. strike on an access road to the Baghdad airport that hit a two-car convoy carrying the 62-year-old Soleimani, leader of the Quds (Jerusalem) Force within Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Defense officials declined to say how the strike was carried out, but Iraqi state media said the attack came from a drone firing missiles. Iran's official media later confirmed that Soleimani had been killed.

In Tehran, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene, called for three days of mourning for the death of Soleimani, charged by the U.S. as being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American troops in Iraq through his direction and supply of Shiite paramilitaries who fought against the U.S. invasion.

In a statement published by Iran's Fars news agency, Khamenei said, "A forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands."

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani called Soleimani's killing a "heinous crime," adding that "Iran will take revenge."

In a series of tweets, Trump said that Soleimani was not the revered figure he was made out to be by Iran's leadership.

"While Iran will never be able to properly admit it, [Soleimani] was both hated and feared within the country," Trump wrote. "They are not nearly as saddened as the leaders will let the outside world believe. He should have been taken out many years ago!"

The U.S. currently has a total of about 60,000 troops in the Mideast, including 5,000 in Iraq, according to Esper. The total includes about 14,000 sent to the region since last May to shore up defenses against Iran.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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