US could send 14,000 more troops to the Middle East to counter Iran, report says

The Pentagon and the US president have denied the report

(FILES) In this file photo taken on August 27, 2017, a US Marine watches Afghan Commandos take part in a combat training exercise at Shorab Military Camp in Lashkar Gah in Helmand province. The US is weighing sending up to 14,000 more troops to the Middle East in the face of a perceived threat from Iran, the Wall Street Journal reported December 4, 2019. The mulled deployment would include "dozens" more ships and double the number of troops added to the US force in the region since the beginning of this year, the Journal said, citing unnamed US officials. / AFP / WAKIL KOHSAR
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The Pentagon has refuted a report which claimed the Trump administration is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to deter Iran.

Outlining a major military build-up for the region, the report from The Wall Street Journal said the US is also looking to send "dozens more ships" and other military hardware.

Pentagon Spokeswoman Alyssa Farah denied the report late on Wednesday, saying such plans are not being considered: "To be clear, the reporting is wrong."

The report was also refuted by President Donald Trump, who dismissed it as "fake news" in a tweet on Friday morning.

A US Central Command official told The National that the military does not comment on internal deliberations.

But John Rood, the undersecretary at the defence for policy, said there were indications of possible “Iranian aggression”.

“We have sent very clear and blunt signals to the Iranian government about the potential consequences of aggression,” Mr Rood said.

“The Iranians have committed a number of aggressive acts in recent months, so you have some demonstrated intent."

On Tuesday, CNN reported it had been told by officials of new intelligence about "a potential Iranian threat against US forces and interests in the Middle East". The information came in November.

“In the past several weeks there has been movement of Iranian forces and weapons that the US worries could be put in place for a potential attack, if one is ordered by the Iranian regime,” an official said.

A Chatham House report released in October last year estimated that “as of September 2017, the US had 54,180 troops in the Middle East”.

Last month, US President Donald Trump told Congress that 3,000 more American troops would be sent to Saudi Arabia in response to attacks on two major Saudi oil installations in September.

Iran has been implicated in the attack, US officials said, and Saudi Arabia is still conducting an investigation.

Ryan Bohl, a Mena analyst at US intelligence company Stratfor, said the news of sending 14,000 troops would be a deterrent to Iran in itself.

Iranian officials have repeatedly called on the US to withdraw its military from the Middle East.

"By leaking that they are prepared to send more troops and ships, they're telling Iran that if they follow through with the threats, they won't get the US to leave the region but more American forces," Mr Bohl told The National. 

He said the development would also be an assurance to Gulf countries.

“Iran also wants Gulf allies like Saudi and the UAE to think the US will not protect them," Mr Bohl said. "This signals the opposite.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Lisbon on Wednesday where they discussed the Iranian situation.

“The Secretary and the Prime Minister discussed Iran’s destabilising influence in the region, the importance of economic co-operation with regional partners and Israel’s security,” the State Department said.

Mr Netanyahu also had a call with Mr Trump on Sunday.