Sept. 21 (UPI) — President Donald Trump ordered additional U.S. troops to the Middle East on Friday, nearly a week after an attack on Saudi oil facilities, Department of Defense Mark Esper announced.
In addition to troops, the United States will send air defense assets to the region. Esper made the announcement during a news conference.
“The president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense,” he said. “We will also work to accelerate the delivery of military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to the [United Arab Emirates] to enhance their ability to defend themselves.”
Esper said the deployment was in response to requests from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
On Saturday, a drone damaged Saudi oil installations responsible for 5 percent of the global supply. Saudi and U.S. officials blamed the attack on Iran, though Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility. Iran is supporting the Houthis in their fight against the Saudi-backed Yemeni government.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected U.S. and Saudi accusations, calling them “slander.”
Esper said Friday that the United States doesn’t wish to escalate the conflict with Iran, though Trump said Sunday that the United States is “locked and loaded” in response to the drone strike.
“We are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of the attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” the president tweeted.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, described Friday’s announcement as a “moderate deployment” and said the number of troops sent overseas would be in the hundreds.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned Thursday that any military action by the United States or Saudi Arabia would cause “all out war.”
“I made a very serious statement about defending our country,” he said. “I am making a very serious statement that we don’t want to engage in a military confrontation. But we we won’t blink to defend our territory.”
Earlier Friday, Trump announced new sanctions on Iran’s central bank.
“This is very big. We’ve now cut off all source of funds to Iran,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.