Trump says no plan to send 120,000 troops to Middle East, but would send more if needed

Trump says no plan to send 120,000 troops to Middle East, but would send more if needed
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpDavid Axelrod after Ginsburg cancer treatment: Supreme Court vacancy could 'tear this country apart' EU says it will 'respond in kind' if US slaps tariffs on France Ginsburg again leaves Supreme Court with an uncertain future MORE on Tuesday dismissed a report that his administration is crafting a plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East as "fake news," but said that if it came to it, "we'd send a hell of a lot more troops than that."

Trump was asked about a New York Times report that said acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanWhy Dave Norquist is the perfect choice for DOD's deputy secretary Five questions for Trump's new defense secretary on first major tour Trump says media is part of vetting his nominees: 'We save a lot of money that way' MORE presented the White House with the plan last week in the event tensions further escalated with Iran.

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"I think it’s fake news," Trump told reporters at the White House as he departed for a trip to Louisiana. "Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that."

"Where was that story, in The New York Times?" he asked. "Well, The New York Times is fake news."

The newspaper reported Monday evening that Shanahan prepared the updated plan at the request of national security adviser John BoltonJohn Robert BoltonSchumer joins Pelosi in opposition to post-Brexit trade deal that risks Northern Ireland accord Why President Trump must keep speaking out on Hong Kong Trump meets with national security team on Afghanistan peace plan MORE, who has long held hawkish views toward Iran. The plans do not call for a land invasion of Iran, the Times reported.

The newspaper reported that it was unclear whether Trump had been briefed on the number of troops or other specifics in the plan.

The president campaigned against U.S. entanglement in foreign wars, and has frequently asserted while in office that the U.S. should not serve as the world's police force. But tensions between Washington and Tehran have flared in recent weeks, raising questions about whether the Trump administration is preparing for a military conflict.

Earlier this month, Bolton announced the deployment of a U.S. carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East. Officials cited a "credible threat" from Iran to explain the decision, but have not elaborated on the threat.

Trump has also ratcheted up sanctions on Iran in recent weeks, eliminating waivers on the country's oil sales and imposing fresh penalties on its metals sector in an effort to cripple Tehran's economy.

“We’ll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything it’ll be a very bad mistake, if they do anything,” Trump said Monday during a meeting with the Hungarian prime minister when asked whether the two countries were at war.

"If they do anything, they will suffer greatly," he added.

Iranian officials have cautioned the U.S. against taking aggressive actions, and have expressed frustration with Bolton, in particular. Bolton advocated for regime change in Iran prior to joining the Trump administration, where he has said his job is merely to advise the president.

Hesameddin Ashena, an Iranian politician and adviser to President Hassan Rouhani, tweeted Tuesday morning that Trump could "get a war" because of Bolton's advice.

"@realDonaldTrump : You wanted a better deal with Iran. Looks like you are going to get a war instead," he tweeted. "That’s what happens when you listen to the mustache. Good luck in 2020!"

--Updated at 12:25 p.m.