US to send 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East; Trump calls recent tanker attacks 'very minor'

Acting defence secretary Patrick Shanahan offered no details on where the troops would be deployed or what their missions might be. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - The Pentagon plans to send about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East as tensions rise between the US and Iran, though President Donald Trump called two recent tanker attacks blamed on the Islamic Republic "very minor."

"I have authorised approximately 1,000 additional troops for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East," Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a statement on Monday evening (June 17). He offered no details on where the troops would be deployed or what their missions might be.

The US has accused the Iranians of being behind the attacks in the Gulf of Oman last week. The Teheran government has denied any involvement in the episode.

Trump, however, seemed to downplay the attacks in an interview with Time magazine that was published late Monday night. "So far, it's been very minor," he said.

Asked if he was considering a military confrontation with Iran, he told Time, "I wouldn't say that. I can't say that at all."

In the interview he also said that the Gulf of Oman and the Middle East were less of a concern than in the past because the U.S. gets "very little" oil from the region

Shanahan, in his statement, said the "attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behaviour by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region"

"The United States does not seek conflict with Iran. The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests," he said.

Reuters first reported plans to send US additional troops to the Middle East earlier on Monday.

Earlier Monday, the Pentagon released new photos and a timeline that it said bolstered US accusations that Iran was responsible for the attacks in the Gulf of Oman.

Trump said last week that "Iran did it", and British officials said it was "almost certain" that Teheran was behind the attacks.

A Navy explosives expert, who is not part of the US investigation, told reporters that while the explosive only damaged the tanker Kokuka Courageous, he cannot infer what the attackers intended to accomplish.

"Iran is responsible for the attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency needed to quickly remove the unexploded limpet mine," according to a statement accompanying the photos.

The Pentagon took the unusual step of identifying the source of the imagery - in this case a Navy MH-60R surveillance helicopter that can fly and hover as it gathers imagery at lower altitudes than drones or P-8 maritime patrol craft.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an independent investigation of the attacks because "it is very important to know the truth," a statement that has won support from other nations.

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