WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will deploy U.S. forces to the Middle East on the heels of strikes on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced Friday.
"The president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense," Esper said, adding that Saudi Arabia requested the support. "We will also work to accelerate the delivery of military equipment to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to enhance their ability to defend themselves," he added.
President Trump has said that it "certainly looks" as if Iran appears to be responsible for the attack, but that he wants to avoid war.
Esper reiterated that the United States does not seek a conflict with Iran and called on Tehran to return to diplomatic channels. He also said that there could be additional U.S. deployments if the situation were to escalate.
On Thursday, the Pentagon called the recent strikes on the Saudi Arabian oil facilities as "sophisticated" and represented a "dramatic escalation" in tensions within the region.
"This has been a dramatic escalation of what we have seen in the past. This was a number of airborne projectiles, was very sophisticated, coordinated and it had a dramatic impact on the global markets," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said, adding that the strike is an international problem.
The strikes on the world's largest crude-processing plant and oil field forced the kingdom to shut down half of its production operations. What's more, the event triggered the largest spike in crude prices in decades and renewed concerns of a budding conflict in the Middle East. All the while, Iran maintains that it was not behind the attacks.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia's defense ministry said that drone and missile debris recovered by investigators shows Iranian culpability. Saudi coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki said during a press briefing in Riyadh that all military components retrieved from the oil facilities "point to Iran."
The latest confrontation follows a string of attacks in the Persian Gulf in recent months.
In June, U.S. officials said an Iranian surface-to-air missile shot down an American military surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz. Iran said the aircraft was over its territory. Hours later, Trump said Iran made a "very big mistake" by shooting down the spy drone. The downing came a week after the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region and after four tankers were attacked in May.
The U.S. in June slapped new sanctions on Iranian military leaders blamed for shooting down the drone. The measures also aimed to block financial resources for Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Though Trump has threatened to bring military action or even "fire and fury" against American adversaries, he has also said he does not want to throw the U.S. into another prolonged military conflict. In a tweet Tuesday, Trump called his measured response to the strikes "a sign of strength that some people just don't understand!"