The Pentagon on Friday vehemently pushed back on reports that the United States may send 14,000 more troops to the Middle East to confront a growing Iranian threat but did not deny that a force increase is forthcoming.
“As the Department has stated repeatedly, we were never discussing or considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement.
“Reports of this are flat out wrong. [The Department of Defense] will always stand ready to respond to future actions by our adversaries if and when they arise, but the Pentagon is not considering sending 14,000 troops to CENTCOM. This report is false.”
The Wall Street Journal earlier this week reported that the Trump administration was considering the massive troop increase, which would double the number of U.S. military personnel in the region.
Trump then hinted on Thursday that more forces would be sent to the Middle East to confront a threat from Iran, which recently transferred short-range missiles into Iraq, according to reports.
“There might be a threat and if there is a threat, it will be met very strongly. But we’ll be announcing whatever we may be doing — may or may not be doing,” Trump said during a White House luncheon with all of the permanent representatives to the United Nations Security Council.
And John Rood, the undersecretary of Defense for policy, also confirmed that the administration could deploy more U.S. troops to the region to counter Tehran.
CNN reported later the same day that the increase would likely be between 4,000 to 7,000 additional U.S. troops.
The United States since May has steadily increased the number of its forces in the Mideast as Iran has ramped up its attacks in the region, including the downing of a U.S. drone in June and strikes on oil tankers.
Rood told reporters on Wednesday that the Pentagon had tracked indications that Iran may soon attack U.S. forces or interests in the area.
“We do remain concerned about potential Iranian aggression,” Rood said.
The United States has also blamed Iran for an attack on two Saudi Arabian oil facilities, though Iran has denied they were involved.