Trump defense chief: US may send more troops to Middle East amid Iran tensions

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Thursday acknowledged that the growing tensions with Iran "may involve sending additional troops" to the region.

Shanahan's comments marked the first public confirmation that the Trump administration is considering sending additional U.S. forces to curtail what it claims is "troubling and escalatory indications and warnings" from Iran.

"What we're looking at is: Are there things we can do to enhance force protection in the Middle East? ... It may involve sending additional troops," Shanahan told Pentagon reporters prior to meeting with Vietnam's deputy prime minister and foreign minister.

The Pentagon has already deployed a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East, and news reports emerged this week that Shanahan on Thursday was set to present the White House with a request to deploy 10,000 troops to the Middle East.

An earlier report said that the U.S. could send upwards of 120,000 additional troops.

Shanahan denied those reports.

"I got up this morning and read that we were sending 10,000 troops to the Middle East and then I read about, more recently, there's 5,000. ... There is no 10,000 and there is no 5,000. That's not accurate," he said.

Shanahan added that he and other security officials are "going to give the president an update on the security situation in Iran." He also stressed that any additional military movement would be for deterrence purposes.

"This is not about war. We have a mission there in the Middle East: freedom of navigation, counterterrorism in Syria and Iraq, defeating al Qaeda in Yemen, and the security of Israel and Jordan."

Shanahan said that he is in regular contact with U.S. Central Command head Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie and will be meeting with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford as well as speaking to head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, on the situation.

The new comments come as Shanahan and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday briefed lawmakers on intelligence detailing recent actions by Iran. The Trump defense chief asserted after the briefings that U.S. efforts to deter Iran in the region have worked.

Shanahan said Thursday that should "things change, then my plan will be to update Congress because they've certainly been very clear to 'keep us current.'"