WASHINGTON (AP) —
The Pentagon on Thursday was presenting proposals to the White House to send military reinforcements to the Middle East to beef up defenses against Iran amid heightened tensions in the region. President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters before the meeting, said he was not convinced the troops were needed but would do whatever was necessary.
"We'll see what happens with Iran," said Trump. "I don't think we're going to need them, I really don't, but we're going to have a meeting on it in about an hour. I would certainly send troops if we need them."
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters the Defense Department has not yet determined how many troops might be sent to reinforce the existing U.S. military presence in the region.
He disputed reports by The Associated Press and others that the Pentagon was proposing to send up to 10,000 more troops to the Middle East. He said reports citing specific figures were "not correct," but he would not say whether the numbers under consideration were higher or lower.
"What we're focused on right now is, do we have the right force protection in the Middle East," Shanahan said, referring to defensive forces. "It may involve sending additional troops."
He said he was in regular contact with Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the Central Command chief, about how to shape the U.S. force presence in the Mideast with potential Iranian threats in mind.
Officials said the proposed troop reinforcements are not a response to any new threat from Iran but are aimed at strengthening security for the U.S. forces already in the region. They said the troops would be defensive forces, and the discussions include additional Patriot missile batteries, more ships and increased efforts to monitor Iran.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans have not been formally announced.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday Trump was evaluating the force posture in the region "every day."
"We're evaluating the risks, making sure that we have it right," he told "Fox and Friends."
Sending more troops could also raise questions on Capitol Hill. During back-to-back closed briefings for the House and Senate on Tuesday, defense leaders told congressional officials the U.S. doesn't want to go to war with Iran and wants to de-escalate the situation.
Pompeo and Shanahan told lawmakers the U.S. is seeking to deter, not provoke, Iran, even while accusing Tehran of threatening U.S. interests in the Mideast. Shanahan told reporters, "Our biggest focus at this point is to prevent Iranian miscalculation."
Many in Congress are skeptical of the administration's approach to Iran, questioning whether it is responding to significant new Iranian threats or escalating a situation that could lead to war.
The Trump administration has evacuated nonessential personnel from Iraq, amid unspecified threats the administration said are linked to Iranian-backed militias in the country.
Some Democrats say Trump is responsible for drawing Iran's ire.
"I have yet to see any exhibited strategy," said Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, a former CIA officer. She said she finds many of the administration's recent statements on Iran to be "deeply troubling."