The U.S. is poised to send hundreds of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia, according to new media reports.
CNN reports two U.S. defense officials said 500 troops will deploy to Prince Sultan Air Base, which the U.S. has eyed as a spot for increased presence because intelligence indicates the desert region would be difficult for Iranian missiles to strike.
The new troops would be in addition to a small number of troops and support personnel already in Saudi Arabia readying a Patriot missile defense battery and a runway.
Iran's state television did not identify the seized vessel, but said it was intercepted on Sunday. It said the oil tanker had 12 foreign crew members on board and was involved in smuggling some 1 million liters of fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.
The deployment is part of the Pentagon’s plan to send 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East due to escalating tensions with Iran. The proposal was unveiled on June 17, but it was unclear exactly where the troops would be sent.
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” former Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said at the time. “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.”
Congress has yet to receive formal notification of the troop movement, but were unofficially tipped off that the deployment would happen, according to CNN.
Although the Trump administration has sought to cozy up to Saudi Arabia, the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia has been strained since the death of Washington Post’s Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, as well as concerns about the ongoing Saudi-led fight in Yemen against Iran-supported Houthi rebels that has resulted in thousands of civilian casualties.
Military Times interviewed more than a dozen military experts, including current and former U.S. military officials, about how a conflict might begin and how it could play out. This is what they said could happen:
The Pentagon did not disclose details of the plan and said that there was no official announcement yet.
“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," Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich said in a statement. "There is no official announcement at this time.”
U.S. Central Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Military Times.
The U.S. has already boosted its presence in the Persian Gulf in recent months. For example, the Trump administration sent the USS Abraham Lincoln, B-52 bombers, and a Patriot antimissile battery to the region in May.
Tensions have worsened since then, especially after Iran shot down a U.S. surveillance drone on June 20. In response, the Trump administration was prepared to launch a military strike, but President Donald Trump said he backed off the plan after he learned the number of estimated casualties.