President Trump has approved the deployment of additional U.S. troops and air defense assets to Saudi Arabia, in a muted military response to last week’s attack on Saudi oil facilities.
At a news conference late Friday following a White House meeting with Trump, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper emphasized that the deployments were defensive in nature, and in response to requests from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to help protect “critical infrastructure” from further attacks by Iran.
Word of the deployments, coupled with an announcement of new economic sanctions, indicated that despite Trump’s initial “locked and loaded” response to the attacks — and the urging of some advisers — he does not plan U.S. military retaliation.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., said the “moderate deployment,” numbering in the hundreds, will be in addition to any forces and equipment the United States is asking allies to contribute.
Dunford said the military will determine the exact composition of the new forces, the second time in recent months that the United States has boosted troops in the region in response to Iranian actions. The Sept. 14 attack by drones and cruise missiles against two Saudi oil installations appeared to circumvent Saudi defenses, including six battalions of U.S. Patriot missile defense systems.
Esper said it was clear that the weapons used in the attack “were Iranian-produced and were not launched from Yemen,” as Iranian-backed Houthi rebels there initially asserted. “All indications are that Iran was responsible,” he said.
Iran has denied responsibility.
Asked whether further, offensive action was contemplated, Esper demurred, saying, “This is the first step we’re taking.” U.S. military officials, concerned that the situation has the potential to escalate, said they were seeking to ensure the response took a diplomatic path or at least paired any military actions with diplomacy.