The United States will send more forces into Saudi Arabia even as President Donald Trump says he wants to reduce American military involvement in the Middle East.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper ordered the deployment of two more fighter squadrons and accompanying personnel to the oil-rich American ally, he told reporters Friday. The U.S. will also deploy Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense systems.
"Taken together with other deployments I have extended or authorized within the last month, this involves about 3,000 United States forces," the Pentagon chief said.
The move comes amid rising tensions in the Middle East sparked in part by Trump's decision to pull troops from northern Syria. Earlier this week, Turkey launched airstrikes and artillery fire targeting U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in the area.
Esper also chastised Turkey on Friday for what he called an "impulsive action" to start the offensive in Syria.
"We oppose and are greatly disappointed by Turkey's decision to launch a unilateral military incursion into northern Syria," the Defense secretary said. He added that it has put the U.S. in a "tough situation," due to its North Atlantic Treaty Organization ties to Turkey and allegiance with the Kurdish forces in Syria.
In announcing the move to put more forces in Saudi Arabia on Friday, Esper said the kingdom "asked for additional support" in the wake of attacks on massive Saudi oil production facilities in September. The U.S. and major international allies have blamed the strikes on Iran.
Trump has faced bipartisan backlash on Capitol Hill for drawing American forces from Syria. Defending his move in recent days, the president has pointed to his campaign pledge to reduce U.S. involvement in military campaigns in the Middle East.
"We want to bring our soldiers back home. These are the endless wars," Trump said on Monday.
Esper on Friday disputed that the U.S. left Kurdish forces in Syria out to dry.
"To be clear: We are not abandoning our Kurdish partner forces, and U.S. troops remain with them in other parts of Syria," he said.