Pentagon official: 'Possible' more US troops could be deployed to Middle East

Pentagon official: 'Possible' more US troops could be deployed to Middle East
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The Trump administration could deploy more U.S. troops to the Middle East to counter Iran, a senior Pentagon official said Thursday, following a report that the administration is considering sending another 14,000 troops to the region.

At the beginning of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, undersecretary of Defense for policy John Rood called a Wall Street Journal report “erroneous,” adding that “we haven’t made a decision to deploy an additional 14,000 troops.”

But pressed later in the hearing by Sens. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnGOP senator: 2020 candidates must recuse themselves from impeachment trial Apple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones GOP senators introduce resolution to change rules, dismiss impeachment without articles MORE (R-Tenn.) and Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyHouse poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate Pelosi set to send impeachment articles to the Senate next week McConnell backs measure to change Senate rules, dismiss impeachment without articles MORE (R-Mo.) on whether the deployment is under consideration, as the Journal reported, Rood allowed for the possibility of deploying more forces.

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“We are evaluating the threat situation and the secretary if he chooses to can make decisions to deploy additional forces based on what he’s observing there,” Rood said. “Based on what we’re seeing and our concerns about the threat picture, it is possible that we would need to adjust our force posture. And I think that would be a be prudent step depending on what we observe because our objective is to deter Iranian aggression, and deterrence is not static. It’s a very dynamic activity.”

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed U.S. officials, reported the administration is considering deploying as many as 14,000 additional troops, as well as more ships and hardware, to the Middle East to counter Iran. The Journal said President TrumpDonald John TrumpLev Parnas implicates Rick Perry, says Giuliani had him pressure Ukraine to announce Biden probe Saudi Arabia paid 0 million for cost of US troops in area Parnas claims ex-Trump attorney visited him in jail, asked him to sacrifice himself for president MORE could make a decision on the deployment as soon as this month.

After the article was published, Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah tweeted that the United States “is not sending” 14,000 troops to the Middle East. In a second tweet, Farah said “the reporting is wrong” and that the United States “is not considering sending” the troops.

A deployment of 14,000 would double the number of U.S. troops sent to the region since May in the face of what officials have described as heightening threats from Iran.

The United States has blamed Iran for attacks over the summer on oil tankers in the Gulf, as well as an attack on two Saudi Arabian oil facilities. Iran has denied they carried out the attacks.

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At the top of Wednesday’s hearing, Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenators take oath for impeachment trial Trump, Democrats set for brawl on Iran war powers Senators see off-ramp from Iran tensions after Trump remarks MORE (R-Okla.) said Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: GAO finds administration broke law by withholding Ukraine aid | Senate opens Trump trial | Pentagon to resume training Saudi students soon US military to soon resume training for Saudi students State Department cancels two classified congressional briefings on Iran, embassy security MORE denied the report to him and asked Rood for further clarification.

“That is an erroneous item,” Rood said of the Journal report. “We are observing Iran’s behavior with concern. As you know, in recent months, they’ve conducted some attacks on shipping, on the Saudi oil facilities and on an American [drone]. We continue to see threat reporting that concerns us, as well.”

“So the secretary and others are continuing to look at that threat picture and have the ability to dynamically adjust our force posture,” he added. “But we haven’t made a decision to deploy an additional 14,000 troops.”

Blackburn later stressed the article said the deployment was under consideration, not that the decision had been made, and pressed Rood on that point.

“With respect to the Journal article, as mentioned the Iranians, we’re watching this situation where the Iranians both have conducted attacks in recent months, and we’re concerned about the threat stream that we’re seeing,” Rood told Blackburn, adding officials are scheduled to brief the committee in closed session next week on Iranian threats.

“So you are considering it?” Blackburn replied.

“Yes,” Rood responded. “What I would say to you is there is a dynamism both to the threat situation and there needs to be a dynamism to the response.”

“Is 14,000 the correct number or is there a lesser number?” Blackburn pressed.

“The secretary of Defense has not made any decisions to deploy additional troops,” Rood said. “The secretary of Defense is consistently and continues to evaluate with the advice of others what the appropriate number of forces to be deployed to the Middle East is.”

Pressed by Hawley about the contradiction between Rood’s comments Thursday and Farah’s tweets Wednesday, Rood said he “wouldn’t agree with your characterization that I have directly contradicted the spokesperson.”

“There isn’t some pending document with the secretary of Defense that states, ‘Deploy 14,000 troops, do you approve, yes or no,’ ” Rood said. “I’m not trying to be argumentative, sir, I’m just trying to point out there’s a dynamic security situation in the Middle East and that it’s custom that we do, and we didn’t do it just because of recent events, where we regularly evaluate the appropriate number of forces.”

Hawley encouraged Esper to publicly comment on the issue to clear up the contradictions. 

“I think at this point it would be helpful to hear from the secretary on this issue, and I’d like to hear from him today on this issue,” Hawley said. “I think some clarification’s in order, and I’d like to have it, I’d like to have it in public, because the Pentagon has now made multiple contradictory public statements.”