President Donald Trump on Friday approved the deployment of U.S. forces to bolster Saudi Arabia’s air defenses after an attack on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure that has been blamed on Iran.
Speaking at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the deployment of an unspecified number of troops was “defensive in nature” but warned Tehran that the U.S. has “other military options available.”
“To prevent further escalation, Saudi Arabia requested international support to help protect the kingdom's critical infrastructure. The United Arab Emirates has also requested assistance,” Esper told reporters.
“In response to the kingdom's request, the president has approved the deployment of United States forces, which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense.”
The U.S. would also “accelerate the delivery of military equipment” to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in an effort to “send a clear message that the United States supports our partners in the region,” added Esper.
A pre-dawn strike using drones and missiles on the Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities in Saudi Arabia on Sept. 14 took out 5.7 million barrels per day of production and roiled global hydrocarbon markets.
Yemen’s Houthi rebel group initially claimed responsibility for the attack, but the U.S. has since blamed Iran, as has Saudi Arabia. The Islamic Republic has denied any connection to the strikes.
Esper echoed Trump’s comments that the U.S. “does not seek conflict with Iran.”
The Pentagon chief said the deployment would support the global economy and “demonstrate our commitment to upholding the rules-based order that we've long called on Iran to obey.”
By James Reinl in New York