The Pentagon is preparing to deploy 500 troops to Saudi Arabia as it beefs up its military presence in the Middle East amid escalating tensions with Iran.
CNN reported, citing two U.S. defense officials, that the troops are expected to go to the Prince Sultan Air Base located near the Saudi capital of Riyadh. The New York Times later confirmed the report.
Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a pentagon spokeswoman, told The Hill there is “no official announcement at this time,” adding that “U.S. Central Command continually works to manage our force posture in the region and will continue to do this in cooperation with our partners and allies in the region.”
The Pentagon announced last month it was sending an additional 1,000 troops to the region for defensive purposes, specifically citing tensions with Iran.
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” former Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said during the announcement. “The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests.”
The 500 troops going to Saudi Arabia are part of this deployment, according to CNN, and will join a small number of troops and support personnel already on site.
The relationship between Washington and Tehran was further strained in recent days as Tehran announced it had exceeded limitations on its uranium enrichment imposed by an Obama-era nuclear pact. President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2018, but international observers said Iran was in compliance with the deal until recently.
The White House has also threatened Tehran with fiery rhetoric in past months in response to Iran’s suspected involvement in bombing two oil tankers and downing an unmanned U.S. surveillance drone. Trump confirmed that he had initiated and then called off a retaliatory strike after he said he learned 150 Iranians could be killed.
“Iran better be careful. They're treading on very dangerous territory. Iran, if you're listening, you better be careful,” Trump told reporters Friday.
The administration has slapped stringent sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, metals sector, Revolutionary Guard and the supreme leader to maximize economic pressure.
The deployment also comes as bipartisan members of Congress express frustration with Trump's response to Saudi Arabia following the killing of Washington post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and bombing campaign in Yemen against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, which has contributed to a humanitarian crisis in the country.
The House voted Wednesday to block emergency arms sales to the kingdom, though the legislation is expected to be vetoed. Congress earlier this year also approved a resolution to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.