White House reviews plan to deploy 120,000 troops to Middle East: NYT

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanHouse Armed Services chairman expresses confidence in Esper amid aircraft carrier coronavirus crisis Boeing pleads for bailout under weight of coronavirus, 737 fallout Esper's chief of staff to depart at end of January MORE last week presented the White House with a plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East in the event that Iran escalates tensions, according to a New York Times report.

The Times reports that national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonEx-Trump adviser, impeachment witness Fiona Hill gets book deal Hannity's first book in 10 years debuts at No. 1 on Amazon Congress has a shot at correcting Trump's central mistake on cybersecurity MORE issued an order for the plans and the proposal does not include a ground invasion, which would require many more troops.

ADVERTISEMENT

The plan was ordered to prepare in the event that Iran attacks American forces or accelerates the development of nuclear weapons, according to the Times, citing administration officials.

It is largely driven by Bolton, who has pushed for more aggressive action against Iran under both Trump and former President George W. Bush.

It remained unclear whether Trump has seen the plan or if he would support it given his frequent push for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and Syria.

Two American national security officials told the Times they were concerned Trump’s announced Syria drawdown, as well as reduced U.S. naval presence in the region, had encouraged some Iranian leaders and given them the impression the U.S. will avoid a military confrontation if at all possible.

On Monday, when asked about the possibility of regime change in Iran during an appearance with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Trump responded, “We’ll see what happens with Iran. If they do anything, it would be a very bad mistake.”

It was also unclear whether Trump had been briefed about the number of troops the plan called for, which would be nearly the size of the initial American force that invaded Iraq in 2003, according to the Times.

European leaders have expressed concerns to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoBeirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally Advocacy groups come out against Trump pick for ambassador to Germany US pledges million in disaster aid to Lebanon MORE about escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran, with British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt saying, “We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side,” according to the Times.

A series of moves in recent weeks has ratcheted up tensions between Iran and the United States.

On the first anniversary of Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would scale back some of its commitments under the 2015 pact, and on Sunday Bolton announced the U.S. would deploy a bomber task force and carrier strike group to the region in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.