The United States has decided to send 1,500 troops to the Middle East, the Trump administration’s latest move in the ongoing standoff with Iran.
“We’re going to be sending a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective,” President Donald Trump told reporters on Friday on the South Lawn of the White House. “Talented people are going to the Middle East now and we’ll see how, we’ll see what happens.”
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Friday that the Department of Defense would also send additional troops and “defense capabilities” to the region to counter the threat from Iran. According to the Washington Post, those include a Patriot missile battalion and surveillance aircraft.
Shanahan said Friday that he had notified Congress of the deployment. “This is a prudent response to credible threats,” he tweeted Friday.
The decision by the White House comes after the Pentagon briefed Trump officials Thursday about plans to send up to 10,000 troops to the region, though the number that Trump authorized ended up being a lot smaller.
The Trump administration said earlier this month it had intelligence that indicated Iran was planning to attack Americans stationed in the Middle East. As Vox’s Alex Ward writes, the US responded by putting bomber planes, anti-missile batteries, and an aircraft carrier in the region.
Iran has fed into tensions, saying earlier this month that it would no longer comply with parts of the Iran nuclear deal. It has sped up the production of low-enriched uranium at one nuclear plant, greater than what’s allowed under the deal.
Trump told reporters Friday that he didn’t think “Iran wants to fight and I certainly don’t think they want to fight with us.” But even if neither country actually wants conflict, the risk, as Ward points out, is that both sides could stumble into one. And the choice to send additional troops to the Middle East has the potential to push things closer to the edge.