U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he sees no need to boost the number of U.S. forces in the Middle East, a day after a Pentagon official suggested Washington was considering sending additional troops to the region.
“Right now, we believe we have sufficient capability in the theater to deter what we need to deter,” he told reporters flying with him to California on December 6.
On December 5, John Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy, told Congress that Esper “intends to make changes” to the number of troops deployed in the region and that Washington was "observing Iran's behavior with concern."
Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "we're continuing to look at that threat picture and have the ability to dynamically adjust our force posture."
Rood did not specify the number of troops being considered, but he denied during his testimony a report in The Wall Street Journal that the Pentagon was considering sending some 14,000 new forces to the region.
One official told U.S. media that the number would likely be in the range of 5,000 to 7,000 troops, although he stressed that no decision had been made.
In his remarks to reporters, Esper did not rule out the rotation of troops or possible minor increases in the future.
"But nothing in terms of the numbers – 14,000 -- it's just a completely false report," Esper said of the WSJ article.
"Every commander wants more and more capabilities, wherever they are. But right now we believe we have sufficient capability in the theater to deter what we've needed to deter."
The Pentagon in May sent some 14,000 additional troops to the region, backed by bombers and air defense personnel, to deter what Washington has called “malign” Iranian behavior.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have increased substantially since President Donald Trump in May 2018 pulled out of the 2015 denuclearization pact signed by Iran and six world powers and began reimposing sanctions that had been eased in return for limits on Tehran’s nuclear program.
A series of incidents in the region have led the U.S. military to lead a coalition of forces to monitor shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf region. A separate French-led mission is scheduled to begin in January.