Updated at 3:00 p.m. ET on May 24, 2019.
President Donald Trump is learning, like two presidents before him, that wanting to get out of the Middle East isn’t enough to make it happen.
On Friday the Pentagon announced that it would send 1,500 troops to the region in what officials described as a “force protection” measure because of what they’ve called increased Iranian threats, including to American troops. The United States currently has thousands of troops in Iraq and Syria, in many cases in close proximity to Iranian-backed militias, with whom they’ve maintained a de facto truce as both focused on fighting ISIS.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Katie Wheelbarger said that the new troops would not be going to Iraq and Syria, but would augment the U.S. presence in the region. The U.S. currently maintains between 60,000 and 80,000 troops, both at sea and on land bases, in the Middle East. The extra troops, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a statement, are a “prudent defensive measure and intended to reduce the possibility of future hostilities.”
At the briefing Friday, Vice Admiral Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff, for the first time attributed recent attacks on foreign oil tankers to the Iranians, and confirmed earlier media reports that U.S. officials were concerned when they observed what they said were Iranian missiles being moved on small boats.