Along with the newly announced Pentagon deployment of 1,500 troops to the Middle East in order to counter "an escalating campaign by Iran" the US is sending a dozen fighter jets to provide aerial support, the AP reports. This after defense officials for the first time laid explicit blame on Iran's leaders during statements Friday for allegedly ordering attacks on a Saudi oil pipeline and four tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.
And in a move that's most certainly related, the White House also on Friday steamrolled Congress to approve $8 billion in arms sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia and expedite delivery, invoking a rarely used provision of American arms control laws to bypass lawmakers and approve the weapons sales, citing the escalating tensions with Iran as justification. All of this, combined with Iran's key regional ally Syria coming under new chemical weapons scrutiny over fresh claims it used poison gas in a battle near Idlib a week ago, suggests we could be headed toward a major new proxy war in the Middle East.
The AP tallied the fresh deployments to join the already in the region USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and four B-52 bombers as follows:
The deployments announced Friday include a squadron of 12 fighter jets, manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, and a number of military engineers to beef up protection for forces. In addition a battalion of four Patriot missile batteries that was scheduled to leave the Middle East has been ordered to stay. The total number of troops involved is about 1,500, with roughly 600 included in the Patriot battalion. None of those troops will go to either Iraq or Syria.
This suggests the troops could be placed at US or allied bases along the Persian Gulf, in places like the UAE, Qatar, or even possibly Saudi Arabia — something the Saudis have recently said they'd be open to in support of anti-Iran operations.
The newly announced 1,500 troop deployment appears peanuts, however, compared to the already about 70,000 US military personnel currently present in the region. The AP report summarizes further:
The U.S. has about 70,000 troops across the Middle East, including at a major Navy base in Bahrain and an Air Force base and operations center in Qatar. There are about 5,200 troops in Iraq and 2,000 in Syria.
President Trump himself seemed to all but admit the latest build-up is mostly symbolic as a fear-inducing tactic in passing remarks to reporters on his way to Japan Friday: “We want to have protection in the Middle East. We’re going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective,” Trump said. “Some very talented people are going to the Middle East right now. And we’ll see what happens,” he added.
Congress has lately tried to reign in Trump's potential build-up and military action against Iran; however, the president has sent mixed signals: “Right now, I don’t think Iran wants to fight and I certainly don’t think they want to fight with us,” Trump said at the end of this week.