PENTAGON, U.S. President Donald Trump has rejected a report that he is considering sending 120,000 troops to counter Iran, but didn't rule out deploying "a lot more" soldiers in the future.
"I think it's fake news," Trump said of a New York Times report that the White House is considering a plan to send 120,000 troops to the region.
"Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that," Trump said Tuesday.
The Pentagon has dispatched an aircraft carrier and nuclear-capable bomber planes to the region in the last few days, with a Patriot missile battery and a landing platform dock ship on the way. The Patriot system offers protection from aircraft and missiles, while the LPD carries Marines and the aircraft, hovercraft, or boats needed to put them ashore to fight in distant places.
According to the Times report, the 120,0000 troops under consideration would not be used to invade Iran, something that planners say would require much bigger numbers.
Meanwhile, a senior officer in the U.S.-led military coalition combating Islamic State said Tuesday he had seen no greater recent threat to its troops in Iraq or Syria from forces backed by Iran.
"There's been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria," British Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika told reporters at the Pentagon in a video conference from coalition headquarters in Baghdad. "We're aware of their presence, clearly, and we monitor them, along with a whole range of others because that's the environment we're in."
The statement was in contrast to comments from the Trump administration and the Pentagon, both have asserted for more than a week that they have detected potential threats against American forces in the Middle East from Iran or Iranian-backed proxies.
Capt. Bill Urban, lead spokesman U.S. Central Command, said the recent comment from Ghika runs counter to the U.S.'s perceived threat from Iranian-backed forces.
"U.S. Central Command, in coordinationwith Operation Inherent Resolve, has increased the force posture level forall service members assigned to OIR in Iraq and Syria. As a result, OIR is now at a high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq," Urban said in a statement.
U.S. Senate Democrat Chris Coons said it is hard to determine whether a significant, new U.S. troop deployment to the Middle East is justified. Answering a VOA Persian question at a Council on Foreign Relations event in Washington on Tuesday, Coons said there has been no articulated strategy or briefing by the Trump administration to lawmakers on committees other than intelligence, regarding threats from Iran.
Coons called for continued U.S. dialogue with Washington's European allies on Iran. "I would urge the Trump administration to work as hard diplomatically as they seem to be from the defense perspective, in terms of planning and developing a strategy and communicating it to Congress and the world."
A senior military official told reporters Friday at the Pentagon that the Iranian threat was both "on land and sea" and included commercial dhows (small ships) that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a branch of Iran's armed forces, loaded with "potential military hardware to include missiles."
"It's important that Iran understand that an attack on Americans or its interests will be met with an appropriate response," Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan said Friday. "We're in the Middle East to defeat terrorism, fight and build security ... but we will protect ourselves."
But when asked to square his statements with U.S. assertions that the threat to U.S. troops in Iraq from the militias is increasing, Ghika insisted he was "on exactly the same page."
"I don't think we're out of step with the White House at all," Ghika said.
Source: Voice of America