The Pentagon said on Friday it has approved the deployment of 3,000 additional US troops and military hardware to Saudi Arabia, boosting the country’s defences after attacks on its oil installations.
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper authorised the deployment of two more Patriot missile batteries, one THAAD ballistic missile interception system, two fighter squadrons and one air expeditionary wing, the Pentagon said in a statement.
“Secretary Esper informed Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) this morning of the additional troop deployment to assure and enhance the defence of Saudi Arabia,” it said.
“Taken together with other deployments this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorised within the last month,” it said.
Esper later told reporters that the deployments were in response “to continued threats in the region” and came after a conversation with MBS about “efforts to protect from further Iranian aggression”.
MBS had requested additional support, Esper said.
Since May, the US has increased the number of its forces by about 14,000 in the Central Command area covering the Middle East, the defence department said.
The new deployment is part of a series of what the US has described as defensive moves following the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities last month, which rattled global energy markets and exposed major gaps in Saudi Arabia’s air defences.
The US and Saudi Arabia, as well as several European countries, have blamed Iran for the attacks, allegations Tehran denies.
Iran has responded to previous US troop deployments this year with apprehension.
MBS last month said Riyadh preferred a political solution to a military one, but warned that oil prices could spike to “unimaginably high numbers” if the world did not deter Iran.
Attacks of oil infrastructure in the Gulf
Several attacks on oil infrastructure in the Gulf have occurred in recent months amid heightened tensions across the Middle East.
The US alleged that Iran attacked oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz in June and July, accusations denied by Tehran.
On Friday, an Iranian oil tanker in the Red Sea was hit by two suspected rockets off the coast of Saudi Arabia, raising fears of further escalation in the already-volatile Gulf region.
“Experts believe it was a terrorist attack,” Iran’s Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. It did not say whom Iranian officials suspect of launching the missiles.
“Those behind the attack are responsible for the consequences of this dangerous adventure, including the dangerous environmental pollution caused,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state TV.
Relations between Washington and Tehran have steadily deteriorated since last year’s nuclear deal withdrawal by the US.
After pulling out of the landmark accord, the US reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors in what it calls a “maximum pressure” campaign.