President Trump on Friday announced that the U.S. will send roughly 1,500 troops to the Middle East in order to counter Iran's influence in the region.
Trump emphasized that the new deployment will provide force protection for existing troops in the area amid heightened tensions with Tehran.
The president approved the additional forces on Thursday following a meeting with acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford at the White House.
"We want to have protection," Trump told reporters at the White House.
Director of the Joint Staff Rear Adm. Michael Gilday later told reporters at the Pentagon that fewer than 1,000 new U.S. troops will actually be deploying to the Middle East, while roughly 600 soldiers already in the region will have their deployment extended.
The new soldiers sent are part of a Patriot antimissile battalion being deployed to defend against missile threats.
In addition to troops and the Patriot battalion, the Pentagon will also send additional intelligence and reconnaissance aircraft, engineers, as well as a fighter aircraft squadron "to provide additional deterrence and depth to our aviation response options."
Shanahan said that the request for more forces and equipment had come from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and that he had informed Congress of the deployment, saying it was meant to “improve our force protection and safeguard U.S. forces given the ongoing threat posed by Iranian forces, including the IRGC [Iran's Revolutionary Guard] and its proxies.”
The move “is a prudent defensive measure and intended to reduce the possibility of future hostilities," the Pentagon chief said in a statement. "I remain committed to ensuring U.S. personnel have the force protection resources they need and deserve."
Tensions with Iran have grown since earlier this month when the Trump administration deployed a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East, citing “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran that have yet to be publicly identified.
In the weeks following, U.S. defense and national security officials have asserted that any threat from Iran would be met with U.S. force.
On Thursday, Shanahan acknowledged that growing tensions with Tehran “may involve sending additional troops” to the region, and Trump over the weekend publicly lashed out at the nation with a tweet that threatened “if Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, warned in an interview on Tuesday that the United States would respond to Iran in an “aggressive way” if American interests are attacked by Iran or Iranian proxy forces.
Lawmakers gave mixed reaction to Friday’s news of the deployment.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote on Twitter that he “strongly” urges Trump to reconsider more troops to the Middle East.
“This escalation doesn’t get us out of our decades long, seemingly endless wars Mr. President. Trust your instincts and follow what you ran on, not the neocons around who want to repeat past mistakes,” he wrote.
House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), however, said it was a “prudent step to protect our forces and deter Iran.”
"The information and warnings we have collected on Iran are not 'business as usual.' It is important that we make clear to Iran, in words and actions, that they cannot attack us with impunity," he said in a statement.
"The forces being deployed are in response to a request from CENTCOM. I understand that there is a temptation to view everything through a political lens, but a request from a commander on the ground for additional force protection should never be subject to a partisan debate,” Thornberry added.
Shanahan, who gave the commencement speech at the Naval Academy graduation on Friday, seemed to allude to the deployment in his prepared remarks.
“In my capacity, the most difficult decision is authorizing a mission that I know puts the men and women of our Armed Forces in harm’s way,” he said in Annapolis, Md.
“I will continue to give those orders, but only when absolutely necessary. I may have to put your loved ones — those sitting in front of us today — in harm’s way. My pledge to you and to each of these incredible men and women, and to my commander in chief, is this: I will do whatever it takes to ensure those missions make the difference to keep our country safe and free.”
Democrats have voiced concerns over the move, with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) calling the decision "unsettling."
"While requests from CENTCOM should always be taken seriously, our posture in the region should be scrutinized if it does not fit into a broader strategy," Smith said in a statement.
"Without a clearly articulated strategy, adding more personnel and mission systems seems unwise, and appears to be a blatant and heavy-handed move to further escalate tensions with Iran. Leaders from both sides of the aisle have called for de-escalation. At first blush, this move does not fit the bill."
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