While much of the country’s focus has been on President Donald Trump’s attacks on sitting U.S. Congress members like Democrat Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, the administration announced Wednesday that the Pentagon is sending 500 troops to Saudi Arabia as relations with Iran grow more tense.
Two Defense Department officials confirmed the Pentagon is preparing to send soldiers to the Prince Sultan Air Base, east of the capital city of Riyadh. This is in addition to the 1,000 troops sent to the area last month for what former Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said was to “ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests.” The Saudi government has not publicly acknowledged the latest announcement as yet.
Pentagon spokesperson Commander Rebecca Rebarich said there was “no official announcement” of the deployment, however the U.S. military “continually works to manage our force posture in the region.”
CNN first reported the troops would be joining other American military personnel on the base to refurbish runways to fly U.S. aircraft.
Shanahan had said during the previous deployment announcement the U.S. “does not seek conflict with Iran,” but analysts have argued Trump not re-certifying the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018, accusing Tehran this past May of attacking oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, and his approval of air strikes against Iran following the June downing of an American drone may prove otherwise.
Trump, too, had said he was not seeking conflict with Tehran but noted if he felt the need, Iran could experience “obliteration like you’ve never seen before.” The president had actually ordered a strike, but said he had called it off when he realized 150 Iranians would have been killed. He had tweeted: “We were cocked & loaded to retaliate last night on 3 different sights when I asked, how many will die. 150 people, sir, was the answer from a General. 10 minutes before the strike I stopped it,” noting the airstrike would have been a disproportionate response to the drone being shot down. He did announce new sanctions against Iran, which were once on hold as an inducement for the country to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
What worries analysts is that the president does not seem to have a clear redline or standard for what could prompt such conflict with Tehran.
The troop deployment also comes just weeks after Trump bypassed Congress to sell approximately $8 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia has killed hundreds of civilians in neighboring Yemen with airstrikes from U.S.-made weapons, several thousand have died in the fighting, and millions are starving and displaced.
The CIA also found evidence Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for the October 2018 brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have not outright condemned.
The Pentagon is also sending 1,100 more active-duty troops and 1,000 members of the Texas National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border.
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