Pentagon officials on Thursday said they would defer to Saudi Arabia's assessment before explicitly blaming Iran for a weekend attack on Saudi oil facilities, a slight departure in messaging after the State Department laid blame for the attack squarely on Iran.
“We’re not going to get ahead of the Saudi investigation in their assessment of this,” top Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters at the Pentagon.
“We’re supporting their investigation, we have teams on the ground working with them, but we’re not going to get ahead of their conclusions.”
Hoffman did acknowledge that “as of this time, all indications are ... that Iran is in some way responsible for the attack on the Saudi refineries,” but declined to say whether the U.S. military believes the drone and missile attack was launched from Iranian territory.
He added that regardless of whether it was a proxy or direct attack, “this has been a dramatic escalation” of past incidents involving Iran.
“This was a number of airborne projectiles, it was very sophisticated, coordinated, and it had a dramatic impact on the global market. We need to get the parties back on the diplomatic paths to avoid this type of action,” he said.
Hoffman’s comments come as Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoNo time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Psaki: Sexism contributes to some criticism of Harris Mnuchin, Pompeo mulled plan to remove Trump after Jan. 6: book MORE earlier Thursday said it was “abundantly clear” that Iran had conducted the attacks on two Saudi oil refineries, which were hit by drones and cruise missiles on Saturday, affecting roughly 5 percent of the global crude output.
“I didn’t hear anybody in the region who doubted that for a single moment,” he told reporters while visiting Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.
Pompeo a day prior had also declared the attacks an “act of war” by Iran.
Tehran has denied the allegations, while Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed they are responsible.
President Trump, meanwhile, said Wednesday that his administration is considering “many options” to respond to Iran.
Asked whether there was any plan or requirement to supplement U.S. forces in the region for protection purposes, Joint Staff Spokesperson Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, who spoke alongside Hoffman, said the Pentagon was “assessing the region and the environment” but did not have any news “in terms of any type of force adjustment or posturing.”
The U.S. military earlier this year sent an additional 1,000 troops to the Middle East in response to growing tensions with Iran.
“We certainly believe that we have the forces in the region that we need to protect our forces and to deter potential future threats from Iran,” Ryder said.
Hoffman added that since the attack, Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Major Russia weapons test stokes tensions Three key behind-the-scenes figures in Jan. 6 probe Trump Defense chief blocked idea to send 250,000 troops to border: report MORE has spoken with top defense officials in the Middle East and that Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood “has been on the phone near constantly since Monday having conversations with our counterparts in the region."
The Pentagon is also “working through with the State Department. They have the lead on the diplomatic negotiations on this.”
"As we’ve always said with our regard to Iran, our goal is to deter conflict and to put this back on the diplomatic path," Hoffman said.