U.S. Sends More Forces to Mideast While Trump Vows Withdrawal
(Bloomberg) -- The Pentagon said it’s ramping up the deployment of U.S. forces to the Middle East to “assure and enhance the defense of Saudi Arabia” against Iran at the same time President Donald Trump has vowed to start bringing troops home from the region.
Combined with other recent deployments, about 3,000 personnel are being sent or having their missions extended in the Mideast, according to the Pentagon. Since May, an additional 14,000 U.S. personnel are in the region, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Friday.
Crude oil futures rallied on the news.
“Saudi Arabia at my request has agreed to pay us for everything we’re doing -- that’s a first,” Trump told reporters late Friday, without elaborating on terms for such reimbursement.
The deployment to Saudi Arabia comes as Trump and his top aides defend his decision to pull back some U.S. forces in northern Syria, a move that cleared the way for Turkey to send its forces into the country and attack American-allied Kurdish militias. Esper, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, said most U.S. troops remain “co-located” with Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria.
“We are not abandoning our Kurdish partner forces,” Esper said at a briefing alongside Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley.
The latest deployment appeared at odds with statements Trump has made repeatedly in recent days about pulling U.S. forces out of “endless wars” in the Mideast.
“It’s time to bring them home,” Trump said at a rally in Minneapolis on Thursday night. “We’ve done our job, we’ve defeated everyone that we’re supposed to defeat.”
The Trump administration’s combination of moves in the Middle East drew sharp criticism by House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith.
“In less than a week’s time, the president managed to allow the Turks to displace tens of thousands of people in Syria, further destabilizing the region, while promising to deploy an additional two thousand troops to Saudi Arabia, in a misguided effort to deter Iran,” the Democrat from Washington state said in a statement.
Esper and Milley said they’ve told their Turkish counterparts that they oppose Ankara’s attacks in northern Syria and said the U.S. never “green-lighted” the operation despite the White House announcement on Sunday that American troops “would no longer be in the immediate area” if Turkey moved into Syria. Amid denunciations, including from many Republican lawmakers, Trump later said he had warned Turkey that the incursion was “a bad idea.”
Esper and Milley are likely to face tough questioning on whether Trump served as an enable for Turkey’s incursion when they testify in a closed session of the Senate Armed Services Committee next Thursday on “The Situation in Syria and the Wider Region.”
So far, Milley estimated, Turkey has sent hundreds of ground troops into the region to work with as many as 1,000 members of the Syrian Free Army but has primarily attacked with fighter jets, armed drones, artillery and tank fire. He called the Turkish operation on the ground “relatively limited.”
Crude prices were already climbing after a pair of explosions on an Iranian oil tanker in the Red Sea on Friday. The Islamic Republic’s tanker company initially said the attacks probably came from Saudi Arabia, but later withdrew the claim.
The deployment to Saudi Arabia announced on Friday will include a previously previewed delivery of additional Patriot and Thaad missile defense systems that were initially held in reserve. The two systems will provide Saudi Arabia a layered air defense capability to intercept ballistic missiles at different altitudes and distances, extending coverage.
Esper said that move was in response to last month’s missile and drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities, a strike the U.S., Saudi Arabia and some European nations have blamed on Iran.
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