US sending more troops to Middle East; Iran planned to put missiles on fishing boats

The Pentagon announced on Friday that it was bolstering its presence in the Middle East by sending an additional 1,000 troops to the region...

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) - The Pentagon announced on Friday that it was bolstering its presence in the Middle East by sending an additional 1,000 troops to the region, with the aim of deterring Iran from attacking the US and its allies.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan issued a statement explaining that the CENTCOM commander, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, had asked for “additional resources and capabilities” to “improve our force protection and safeguard US forces,” in light of “the ongoing threat posed by Iranian forces, including the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] and its proxies.”

Among the significant revelations that emerged on Friday was that Iran had attempted the “covert deployment of modified dhows capable of launching cruise missiles.” That is what Vice Admiral Michael Gilday, Director of the Joint Staff, told the Pentagon press corps.

Apparently, that was a major factor behind the White House warning to Tehran on May 5, while, at the same time, it announced that the US was moving an aircraft carrier and a bomber task force to the region. 

Read More: US warns Iran as it moves bombers, aircraft carrier to Middle East 

The statement was, quite unusually, issued on a Sunday evening, and in the name of Amb. John Bolton, White House National Security Advisor.

That was a signal of US seriousness and resolve and appears to have deterred Iran from a major attack—but not from lesser ones.

It is the US assessment that Iran was directly behind the sabotage of four ships on May 12 off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. “We did attribute” the attack “directly to limpet mines and those limpet mines to the IRGC,” Gilday explained.  

Read More: US team suggests Iran behind ship sabotage 

He also said that Iranian proxies in Iraq were behind the recent rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone, and Iranian proxies in Yemen—the Houthis—were responsible for the sabotage of Saudi pipelines and pumping facilities some ten days ago.

“We continue to see those threat streams as very active” coming directly from IRGC forces, as well as “Iranian proxies in Yemen and in Iraq,” he stated.

The US first learned of Tehran’s hostile intentions on May 3, Gilday said, apparently alluding to the plan to place cruise missiles aboard dhows, a traditional sailing vessel in the Gulf, often used by local fishermen. 

An Iranian dhow fishing boat off the coast of Iraq, April 10, 2003. (Photo: US Coast Guard)
An Iranian dhow fishing boat off the coast of Iraq, April 10, 2003. (Photo: US Coast Guard)

“Within hours” of receiving that information, Gilday continued, “a warning was issued through a third party to the Iranian leadership,” telling them that “we knew of this planning” and that we would “hold them responsible” for any attacks.

Pressed by journalists to identify the third party, Gilday declined to do so.

However, Oman has managed to maintain friendly relations with both the US and Iran. Earlier this week, the Omani Foreign Minister visited Tehran, where he met with his Iranian counterpart.

Friday’s announcement was the third time since May 5 that the US has announced the dispatch of forces to the region. This announcement added intelligence personnel and surveillance aircraft, “both manned and unmanned,” to the earlier deployments, Gilday explained.

The purpose of those elements is “to allow us to see the threat better,” he said.

The US is also sending engineers “to harden defenses that we already have,” and a fighter squadron of 12 aircraft “to be able to defend or respond, if we have to,” Gilday stated.

On Friday afternoon, before leaving on a visit to Japan, President Donald Trump described the new deployment as “a relatively small number of troops, mostly protective.”

“I don’t think Iran wants to fight, and I certainly don’t think they want to fight with us,” Trump continued. “But they cannot have nuclear weapons, and under the Obama horrible agreement they would have had nuclear weapons within five or six years,” he continued.

“They can’t have nuclear weapons, and they understand that,” he concluded.

Despite speculation that Trump wants a war with Iran, he made clear that he does not. Pentagon officials spoke similarly, describing the deployments as limited in size and aimed at deterring Iran, rather than preparing for conflict.

The US has some 70,000 troops across the Middle East, as the Associated Press reported. The Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, while Qatar hosts a major US Air Force base. There are also 5,200 US troops in Iraq and some 2,000 troops in Syria.