Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Reports that the U.S. is considering sending an additional 14,000 troops to the Middle East are "flat out wrong," Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said in a statement Friday.
"As the Department has stated repeatedly, we were never discussing or considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East," Esper said in the statement. "Reports of this are flat out wrong. DOD will always stand ready to respond to future actions by our adversaries if and when they arise, but the Pentagon is not considering sending 14,000 troops to CENTCOM. This report is false."
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported the administration is considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East, a claim Pentagon officials have denied since.
But on Thursday, John Rood, undersecretary of defense for policy, acknowledged the United States could send more troops to the region to deter Iranian attacks.
"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," Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday. He did not clarify whether he took issue with the 14,000 number or with how the article portrayed the possibility of deployment.
About 14,000 troops have been sent to the Middle East since this spring, Rood said Thursday, about half aboard warships, and the other half being air and ground troops at a major base in Saudi Arabia.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper Friday denied the United States is planning to send an additional 14,000 troops to the Middle East.
“Reports of this are flat out wrong,” Esper said in a press release in response to a report in the Wall Street Journal. “DOD will always stand ready to respond to future actions by our adversaries if and when they arise, but the Pentagon is not considering sending 14,000 troops to Centcom.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday the administration was considering doubling the number of U.S. military personnel sent to the region since May. Increased deployment would help protect U.S. interests in the region and serve as a deterrent to Iran, which is reeling under increased economic sanctions.
Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah denied the report on Twitter Wednesday and Esper emphasized it Friday.
“This report is false,” Esper concluded.
The denial comes one day after President Trump hinted deployments could be increased in the face of Iran’s reported transfer of short-range missiles to Iraq.
“There might be a threat and if there is a threat, it will be met very strongly. But we’ll be announcing whatever we may be doing — may or may not be doing,” Trump said during a White House luncheon with the permanent representatives to the U.N. Security Council.
Trump pulled U.S. troops out of northern Syria in early October, allowing Turkey to sweep into the area to move Kurdish fighters away from its border. He also blamed Iran for a September strike on Saudi oil facilities.
Tensions with Iran have been increasing since May 2018 whenTrump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear agreement that was supposed to keep Tehran from enriching uranium to weapons grade levels and building nuclear weapons. Since then, Iran has exceeded levels stipulated in the agreement and the U.S. has upped sanctions.
There also have been several incidents that have included the downing of a U.S. drone and seizures of oil tankers. Iran also has been feuding with the remaining signatories to the nuclear agreement over whether its ballistic missile program is covered by the accord.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday night that the Trump administration is considering a plan to significantly expand “the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East,” including the deployment of “as many as 14,000 additional troops.” The pushback from Donald Trump and the Pentagon, however, was categorical: the reporting, they said, was “wrong.”
Yesterday, however, a top Pentagon official, Undersecretary of Defense John Rood, was on Capitol Hill, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee that 14,000 additional troops have already been deployed to the region this year, and more may be on the way.
“We haven’t made a decision yet,” Mr. Rood said under questioning by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.). “Based on what we are seeing … it is possible we would need to adjust our force posture. I think that would be a prudent step, depending on what we observe, because our objective is to deter Iranian aggression.” […]
Ms. Blackburn then asked Mr. Rood whether additional forces were being considered, or whether the Pentagon might send fewer than 14,000. “Yes,” he responded.
“We are evaluating the threat situations,” he said. “We will need to make dynamic adjustments to our posture.”
Also yesterday afternoon, a reporter asked the president about the possibility of increased troop deployments to the Middle East. “We’ll announce – whatever we do, we’ll announce,” Trump replied. “But certainly, there might be a threat. And if there is a threat, it will be met very strongly.”
Of course, these possible deployments would follow the additional deployments from earlier this year. The Associated Press added in a report yesterday, “President Donald Trump has approved those increases, even though he also routinely insists that he is pulling U.S. troops out of the Middle East and withdrawing from what he calls ‘endless wars’ against extremists.”
The New York Times had a related report along these lines in October, noting that there are more American troops in the Middle East now than when Trump took office nearly three years ago.
President Trump has repeatedly promised to end what he calls America’s “endless wars,” fulfilling a promise he made during the campaign.
No wars have ended, though, and more troops have deployed to the Middle East in recent months than have come home. Mr. Trump is not so much ending wars, as he is moving troops from one conflict to another.
It seems like ages ago, but in 2016, many were led to believe that Trump’s penchant for isolationism would mean a vastly reduced U.S. military presence around the world, especially in the Middle East. Maureen Dowd’s unfortunate “Donald the Dove” column in April 2016 reflected the chatter in some political circles at the time about the kind of Commander in Chief the Republican would be if elected.
The reality, we now know, proved to be quite different.