US to send about 500 more troops to Saudi Arabia amid Iran tensions

The new troop deployment also comes as relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States remain tense. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - The United States is sending hundreds of troops to Saudi Arabia in what is intended as the latest show of force toward Iran, two Defence Department officials said on Wednesday (July 18).

The roughly 500 troops are part of a broader tranche of forces sent to the region over the past two months after tensions between Washington and Teheran escalated.

Since May, a spate of attacks have left six oil tankers damaged in the Gulf of Oman, with Washington accusing Teheran of inciting them. Iranian officials have denied that claim.

The downing of a US drone in June by an Iranian surface-to-air missile only heightened tensions, prompting President Donald Trump to approve military strikes against Iran before abruptly pulling back.

In recent weeks, Iran has deliberately violated parts of the 2015 international accord that restricted its nuclear program. Last year, Trump withdrew from the pact, calling it a "horrible deal." CNN first reported the plans to deploy more troops Wednesday night. Defence Department officials confirmed the plans, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not yet public.

Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokesman, said there was "no official announcement" of the deployment, but the US military "continually works to manage our force posture in the region."

The Trump administration has sent 2,000 troops to the region specifically to deter Iran. They are meant mainly to scrutinise Iranian activities and protect US troops already stationed in the Middle East. Some combat aircraft and surface-to-air missile systems were also deployed. At one point, the Pentagon had considered sending up to 6,000 additional troops.

Trump said last month that he was not seeking war with Iran but, if forced, the country would face "obliteration like you've never seen before." The new troop deployment also comes as relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States remain tense.

In May, Trump used an emergency authorisation to bypass Congress to sell about $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both countries have troops deployed in Yemen, where they are battling Houthi rebels in a Saudi-led war.

On Wednesday, the House moved to block the arms deal, although that measure is likely to be vetoed.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have denounced the four-year conflict in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has killed hundreds of civilians in errant airstrikes, many with US-made munitions. Thousands of people have died in the fighting, and more than 1 million have been displaced.

Saudi Arabia's hand in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi has also been a sticking point. But last month, during an interview with NBC's Meet The Press, the president shrugged off his death, calling the Middle East a "vicious, hostile place."

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