Amid reports on the increase of violence in Iran’s recent protests and Iran’s meddling in Iraq, Syria and other regional countries, the United States is considering sending more troops to the Middle East to deter potential Iranian aggression, US defense officials said last week.
On Thursday, December 5, US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood told senators that Defense Secretary Mark Esper “intends to make some changes” to the number of troops the United States currently deploys in the Middle East.
That same day, US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said President Trump was open to sending more troops to the Middle East.
“If the troops are needed to deter Iran, we have the capacity to move them into the region – although I don’t think that’s happening right now,” O’Brien told Fox News that day.
On Wednesday, a day earlier, the Wall Street Journal reported that the United States may send 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East. The Pentagon’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, soon refuted the Journal’s reports.
“This reporting by the @WSJ is wrong,” she tweeted. “The US is not sending 14,000 troops to the Middle East to confront Iran.”
But her tweet appeared to discuss the number of troops to be sent to the Middle East, rather than if the United States will do so.
Since last spring, the United States deployed some 14,000 troops to the Middle East, after the series of maritime attacks on oil tankers near Iran and the bombings of Saudi Arabia oil sites, for which Tehran was blamed.
Other government officials said the Pentagon’s options under consideration could send between 5,000 and 7,000 new troops to the Middle East to face potential attacks by Iran.
US officials provided no details to back up why an increase in the number of troops was necessary, but many said the United States was concerned about recent intelligence indications suggesting a possible aggression from Iran.
“We also continue to see indications, and for obvious reasons I won’t go into the details, that potential Iranian aggression could occur,” John Rood also said.
The Pentagon’s deliberations also came after the United States accused Iran of killing more than 1,000 civilians during the country’s recent protests.
Iran caught in economic difficulty due to US sanctions in part, accused foreign interference in its recent anti-government protests and threatened regional countries involved in them.
Brian Hook, the United States’ special representative for Iran, said at the State Department that the United States had received and reviewed exclusive footage Iran’s fatal crackdown on the protests there.
One video, he said, showed the Revolutionary Guards mowing down more than 100 civilians with machine-gun fire in the Iranian city of Mahshahr.
“In this incident alone the regime murdered as many as 100 Iranians and possibly more,” he told reporters at the State Department.
Hook also said that the United States received more than 32,000 submissions, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Iranians last month to submit evidence of Iran’s atrocities.
There was no known public video that supported Hook’s allegation of the Mahshahr massacre. Nor was there acceptable claim that the protests’ death toll reached more than 1,000 civilians. Tehran disputed those figures but has refused to give nationwide statistics of the casualties.
Amnesty International said at least 208 people have been killed during the demonstrations and that the number could be higher.
Yet Hook’s numbers were matched with a figure put out on Wednesday by the Iranian exile group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq —a group which paid Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani to deliver speeches at its events in the past.
Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for Iran’s mission at the United Nations, also disputed any foreign casualty figures as “purely speculative and highly inaccurate.”
The troops’ increase in number would be a reversal of Trump’s promise to withdraw US military from conflicts he had often called “endless wars”.
When asked about the increase in the number of troops, President Trump told reporters on Thursday, “We’ll announce whether we will or no. Certainly, there might be a threat. And if there is a threat, it will be met very strongly.”
Trump often insists on pulling back troops from the Middle East (the most recent case being the withdrawal from northeast Syria). In October, he said that the Middle East was now less stable and safe than it had been before the United States carried out military interventions there.
“The single greatest mistake our country made in its history was going into the quicksand of the Middle East,” he said.
Nearly all officials who have spoken about an increase in the number of troops deployed in the Middle East have said that no definite decision has been made yet.