The United States announced on Friday a new, large deployment of forces to Saudi Arabia to help bolster the kingdom’s defenses following the September 14 attack on its oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Iran.
The announcement came hours after an Iranian-owned oil tanker said it was struck by two missiles near the Red Sea, off the Saudi port of Jeddah.
The planned deployment, which was first reported by Reuters, will include fighter squadrons, one air expeditionary wing and air defense personnel, the Pentagon said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the decision followed discussions with the Saudi minister of defense about the country’s defensive capabilities.
“Saudi Arabia is a longstanding security partner in the Middle East and has asked for additional support to supplement their own defense and defend the international rules-based order,” he told reporters at the Pentagon.
The Pentagon said it was sending two additional Patriot batteries and one Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD).
“Taken together with other deployments, this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorized within the last month,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
It was unclear whether some of the newly announced troops might replace other American forces expected to depart the region in the coming weeks or months.
Just days earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he was pulling American troops out of northeastern Syria, clearing the way for a Turkish air and ground assault near the border. The decision drew swift bipartisan criticism that he was endangering regional stability and abandoning Syrian Kurdish forces that brought down the Islamic State group in Syria.
The Pentagon has yet to announce, for example, whether it will replace the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and its strike group when it eventually wraps up its deployment to the Middle East.
The deployment is part of a series of what the United States has described as defensive moves following the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities last month, which rattled global energy markets and exposed major gaps in Saudi Arabia’s air defenses.
Iran has responded to previous U.S. troop deployments this year with apprehension. It denies responsibility for the attack on Saudi Arabia as well as attacks on oil tankers earlier this year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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