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Old 12-06-2019, 06:03 AM
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Arrow New US troop boost in Mideast ‘possible,’ says top DoD official

New US troop boost in Mideast ‘possible,’ says top DoD official
BY: Joe Gould - Defense News - 12-5-19

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The U.S. military is phasing out older systems like certain FA-18 models. (Jon Gambrell/AP)

WASHINGTON ― The Trump administration could substantially boost the U.S. troop presence in the Middle East to counter Iran, a top Pentagon official said Thursday amid multiple reports the Pentagon is weighing plans to deploy thousands of troops to the region.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood initially characterized a Wall Street Journal report as “erroneous,” saying no decision to deploy 14,000 had been made.

But when Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., pressed him about whether new deployments were under consideration, as the newspaper reported, Rood left open the possibility of “dynamic adjustments to our posture” to deter Iran, under Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

“We are evaluating the threat situation, and the secretary, if he chooses to, can make decisions to deploy additional forces based on what he’s observing there,” Rood said. “Based on what we’re seeing with our concerns with the threat picture, it is possible we would need to adjust our force posture.

“Our objective is to deter Iranian aggression, and deterrence is not static. It’s a very dynamic activity.”

The article had cited unnamed officials as saying the administration is considering an increase of warships, military hardware and troops in the region. Rood’s mischaracterization of it followed a similar characterization from Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah in a tweet on Wednesday: “The U.S. is not sending 14,000 troops to the Middle East to confront Iran.”

Later Thursday, Farah issued a clarifying statement that said Esper “reaffirmed" to SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., "that we are not considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East at this time.” CNN subsequently reported the most realistic options include potentially sending 4,000 to 7,000 additional US troops to the region, though such action might start with as few as 3,000.

Since the spring, the Pentagon has beefed up its military strength in the region, adding about 14,000 troops, ships, aircraft and other assets in response to what officials said is a growing threat from Iran.

Most recently, a Navy warship seized a “significant cache” of suspected Iranian guided missile parts headed to rebels in Yemen, U.S. officials said Wednesday, marking the latest turn in monthslong regional tensions. Also Wednesday, CNN reported that U.S. intelligence agencies and the Pentagon in recent weeks have tracked the movement of a number of Iranian short-range ballistic missiles into Iraq.

Thursday’s hearing focused bipartisan pressure on the Pentagon to better address Russia and China, as directed under the 2018 National Defense Strategy, even as U.S. engagements in the Middle East have dominated headlines and Washington’s attention.

Rood touted the armed services’ decisions to phase out older systems like F/A-18 "C" and "D" models as well as Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, amid the Pentagon’s new investments in hypersonic weapons, directed energy, artificial intelligence and Arctic icebreakers. However, he was dogged by questions over the reported deployment deliberations.

“With respect to the Journal article, as mentioned: We’re watching this situation where the Iranians both have conducted attacks in recent months, and we’re concerned about the threat stream that we’re seeing,” Rood told Blackburn, adding that officials are set to brief the committee in a closed session next week on the topic.

As Blackburn ― who represents the home of the 101st Airborne Infantry Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky ― pressed Rood to say where forces going to the Mideast could come from, Rood noted that half of the 14,000 in the region already have included shipborne troops and, recently, added fighter and bomber aircraft squadrons.

Hawley, in a tense exchange with Rood, argued that Rood’s confirmation to Blackburn — that the Pentagon is considering additional troops — had contradicted Farah, the Defense Department spokeswoman.

Hawley called for a public statement from Esper to clarify the matter. “The Pentagon has now made multiple contradictory public statements. Can we do that? Can we get that done today?” Hawley said.

Rood argued that he hadn’t been contradictory and suggested there have only been routine deliberations at the Pentagon on the number of forces in the Mideast.

“There isn’t some pending document with the secretary of defense that states: ‘Deploy 14,000 troops. Do you approve? Yes or no,’” Rood said. “I’m not trying to be argumentative, sir. I’m just trying to point out there’s a dynamic security situation in the Middle East, and it’s a custom that we do — and we didn’t do it just because of recent events — where we regularly evaluate the appropriate number of forces.”

Hawley ended with some skepticism of the administration’s aim of stabilizing the Mideast: “If our aim is the absence of conflict in the region, we’re going to be sending a lot more than fourteen or twenty-eight of a hundred-thousand ground troops."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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