The United States is sending additional troops to the Middle East to protect American forces from potential Iranian threats, President Donald Trump announced Friday.
“They’re mostly in a protective capacity,” he told reporters in response to a VOA question.
Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said the additions to the region would include “a Patriot battalion to defend against missile threats; additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft; an engineer element to provide force protection improvements throughout the region; and a fighter aircraft squadron to provide additional deterrence.
“The additional deployment to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility is a prudent defensive measure and intended to reduce the possibility of future hostilities,” Shanahan added.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Navy Rear Adm. Michael Gilday said that the actual deployment would be about 900 additional troops. He said 600 service members included in the president’s and defense secretary’s statements were men and women currently in the region, but whose deployments were being extended for additional protection. Gilday said they were attached to a Patriot missile battalion in the Middle East.
The request for more protection came from the U.S. Central Command chief, Marine Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie. Shanahan said Thursday that the request was part of a “normal back and forth” with CENTCOM, but added that it was “at a higher-elevated level, given all the dynamics there in the Middle East.”
Ahead of a security briefing on the Iranian threat Thursday, Trump appeared skeptical that additional troops would need to be deployed.
“I don’t think we’re going to need them. I really don’t,” Trump said before adding, “I would certainly send troops if we need them.”
Some Democrats in Congress have disagreed with the military escalation, with Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine criticizing the “very bellicose tweets from the president” and warning that it would “be a colossal disaster if the United States were involved in Iran.”
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have been escalating since Trump announced his decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats.
“Iran has been a very dangerous player, very bad player. They are a nation of terror, and we won’t put up with it,” Trump said Thursday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded recently to what he called “genocidal taunts” by saying that “Iranians have stood tall for a millennia while aggressors all gone,” including Genghis Kahn and Alexander the Great. “Try respect. It works,” Zarif tweeted.
Last week, Trump told Shanahan that he did not want to go to war with Iran. Sending additional U.S. troops to the region would mark a shift in position for Trump, who has repeatedly said in the past he wanted to reduce the number of U.S. troops in the region.
Last December, Trump announced the withdrawal of 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. In February, however, he decided to keep a few hundred troops there. (VOA)
Officials signed a short-term agreement Sunday to boost South Korea’s contribution toward the upkeep of U.S. troops on the peninsula, after a previous deal lapsed amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for the South to pay more.
The new deal must still be approved by South Korea’s parliament, but it would boost its contribution to 1.03 trillion won ($890 million) from 960 billion won in 2018.
Unlike past agreements, which lasted for five years, this one is scheduled to expire in a year, potentially forcing both sides back to the bargaining table within months.
“It has been a very long process, but ultimately a very successful process,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha told reporters before another official from the foreign ministry initialed the agreement.
While acknowledging lingering domestic criticism of the new deal and the need for parliamentary approval, Kang said the response had “been positive so far.”
U.S. State Department senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements, Timothy Betts, met Kang before signing the agreement on behalf of the United States, and told reporters the money represented a small but important part of South Korea’s support for the alliance.
“The United States government realizes that South Korea does a lot for our alliance and for peace and stability in this region,” he said.
28,500 US troops
About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, where the United States has maintained a military presence since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The allies had struggled to reach a breakthrough despite 10 rounds of talks since March, amid Trump’s repeated calls for a sharp increase in South Korea’s contribution.
South Korean officials have said they had sought to limit its burden to $1 trillion won and make the accord valid for at least three years.
A senior South Korean ruling party legislator said last month that negotiations were deadlocked after the United States made a “sudden, unacceptable” demand that Seoul pay more than 1.4 trillion won per year.
But both sides worked to reach a deal to minimize the impact of the lapse on South Korean workers on U.S. military bases, and focus on nuclear talks ahead of a second U.S.-North Korea summit, Seoul officials said.
The disagreement had raised the prospect that Trump could decide to withdraw at least some troops from South Korea, as he has in other countries like Syria. But on Sunday, South Korean officials told Yonhap news agency that the United States had affirmed it would not be changing its troop presence.
Trump said in his annual State of the Union address to Congress he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam, following their unprecedented meeting in June in Singapore.
Military exercises suspended
After the June summit, Trump announced a halt to joint military exercises with South Korea, saying they were expensive and paid for mostly by the United States.