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US to deploy 'thousands of extra troops' to Saudi Arabia

Since May the US has deployed 14,000 additional personnel in the Middle East. [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 October, 2019

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Since May the United States has increased its 70,000-strong presence in the Middle East by 14,000 personnel, most of those deployed to the Gulf region in response to Iran's actions.

The US will send fighter jets and additional air defences to Saudi Arabia to defend the kingdom against Iran amid heightened tensions between the two Middle Eastern adversaries.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that two fighter squadrons and additional missile defence batteries were being sent to Saudi Arabia.

"Taken together with other deployments this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorised within the last month," the Pentagon said in a statement.

The move comes as tensions jumped on Friday after Tehran said that suspected missiles had struck an Iranian tanker in the Red Sea off the coast of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Tehran did not blame arch-rival Riyadh for the attack, and US defence officials said they were still looking into it and had no immediate explanation.

Esper said he had spoken with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman on Friday to discuss adding US firepower to the oil giant's defences against Iranian attacks.

Read more: After the Aramco attack: A Middle East one step closer to its '1914 moment'

"It is clear that the Iranians are responsible for the recent attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities," he said.

"Despite Iran's attempts to deny their involvement, the evidence recovered so far proves that Tehran is responsible for these attacks." 

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The 14 September attack knocked out two major processing facilities of state oil giant Aramco in Khurais and Abqaiq, roughly halving Saudi Arabia's oil production.

Washington condemned the attacks as a "act of war" but neither the Saudis nor the United States have undertaken overt retaliation.

But the incident added to tensions already soaring since early this year when Iran was accused of attaching mines to several tankers moored off Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and then attacking or seizing others near the crucial Strait of Hormuz.

'14,000 more US troops'

Esper said that since May the United States has increased its 70,000-strong presence in the Middle East by 14,000 personnel, most of those deployed to the Gulf region in response to Iran's actions.

"The US military has on alert additional army, navy, marine and air force units to quickly provide increased capability in the region if necessary," he said Friday.

He also urged US allies in Europe to follow America's lead with their own defensive assets "for regional stability."

The deployments authorised Friday include two additional fighter squadrons, and supporting personnel, along with additional Patriot and THAAD missile defence batteries. 

Agencies contributed to this report.

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