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US to ramp up defensive capabilities in Middle East after Saudi oil attacks

Esper and Dunford are still deciding on the specific number of troops and weapons systems

Tony Capaccio & Glen Carey | Bloomberg 

saudi aramco
A satellite image shows an apparent drone strike on an Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia September 14, 2019.

The US will send a “moderate” number of American troops to the Middle East and additional missile defense capabilities to Saudi Arabia in response to last weekend’s attack on oil facilities, top Pentagon officials said.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Friday that the decision came at the request of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and represented a “first step” in the US response. He reiterated US statements that evidence collected to date shows Iran was responsible for the attacks. The briefing by Esper and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, followed a meeting of national security officials at the White House.

“Iran is waging a deliberate campaign to destabilize the Middle East,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon. He added that the US has shown “great restraint” in responding so far, but called the strike on facilities on Saturday a “dramatic escalation.”

Esper and Dunford are still deciding on the specific number of troops and weapons systems but said the personnel deployment will be relatively small, not numbering in the thousands, and that more details would be forthcoming.

In addition to the US missile defense assistance, Esper said “we are calling on many other countries who all have these capabilities to do two things -- stand up and condemn these attacks” and also contribute equipment.

US and Saudi analyses of the attack have described the strike as complex, involving a mix of low-flying drones and cruise missiles coming from the north. The attack exposed glaring vulnerabilities in Saudi Arabia’s defense capabilities despite having spent hundreds of billions of dollars on weaponry in recent years.

First Published: Sat, September 21 2019. 20:44 IST