The U.S. will send additional troops to the Middle East in the wake of drone strikes on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper said in Washington.
U.S. President Donald Trump had approved the deployment of additional troops of a defensive nature, Esper said at the Pentagon.
Yemen’s Iran-linked Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for last week’s attacks on major Saudi oil facilities in the eastern province of Buqyaq.
But Saudi Arabia and the United States suspect that Iran is behind the strikes, which at least initially put a halt to about half of Saudi Arabia’s oil output.
“All indications are that Iran was responsible for the attack,” Esper said.
Investigations by U.S. and Saudi investigative teams indicated that the weapons used were Iranian-produced and not launched from Yemen, Esper asserted.
He spoke of “Iran’s significant escalation of violence.”
To prevent further escalation, Saudi Arabia had requested international support to help protect the kingdom’s critical infrastructure, Esper said.
The United Arab Emirates had also requested support.
The US forces being sent to the region will primarily be focused on air and missile defence.
US Army chief General Joseph Dunford did not give the number of troops involved, but said they would not be in the thousands.
Dunford said more details would be made public next week.
Esper said Trump had made it clear the US does not seek conflict with Iran, but stressed that “we have many other military options available should they be necessary.”
Earlier Friday, the US president announced new sanctions on the Iranian central bank and the country’s sovereign wealth fund, in what was touted as an effort to further restrict cash flows to the country.
Trump insisted he did not want to launch military strikes against Iran, noting that he could do so at any time in the future and there was no need to rush.
“Iran knows if they misbehave they are on borrowed time,” Trump said in the Oval Office. “I’m not looking to do that if I can,” he said about military strikes. “I think restraint is a good thing,” Trump added, noting he believed it demonstrated “strength.”
Washington has blamed Iran for recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and sent more troops and military assets to the region, to back up its substantial forces already based in Arab Gulf monarchies.
Iran has denied involvement in the oil tanker attacks and also rejected accusations that it was behind the drone strikes on the Saudi oil plants.