The United States is deploying an additional 2,800 U.S. forces to Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of Iran's attack on Saudi oil facilities in September, the Pentagon announced on Friday. The deployment includes fighter squadrons, early detection aircraft, and air defense systems.
The new forces will join the 200 American service members that are part of the Patriot air defense battery and radars sent to Saudi Arabia in late September in response to the Sept. 14 attack that the United States blames on Iran.
"[Defense] Secretary Esper informed Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Muhammad bin Salman this morning of the additional troop deployment to assure and enhance the defense of Saudi Arabia," said Chief Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman in a statement on Friday. "Taken together with other deployments, this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorized within the last month."
“We have been concerned, based on what we hear from partners and allies in the region, about continued Iranian behavior,” Esper said at a Pentagon news conference on Friday.
“There are things that we pick up, if you will through intelligence, that we thought it was important to deploy forces to deter and defend and to send the message to the Iranians do not strike another sovereign state,” he added.
“Do not threaten American interests, American force or we will respond,” Esper warned. “And I’ve said time and time again do not mistake our restraint for weakness. If you will, you will regret that.
Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the deployment to Saudi Arabia was "for the purpose of defense of our interests and assets in the region and also re-establish deterrence with respect to Iran in the wake of an attack on Saudi Arabia."
The U.S. is sending two fighter squadrons, an air expeditionary wing, two Patriot Batteries, Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, and a High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) to Saudi Arabia. The air expeditionary wing can be comprised of tankers, fighters, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft a U.S. official tells ABC News.
According to U.S. officials, the new fighter aircraft deployment is not meant to make up for the potential lack of a U.S. carrier in the region in the future. Instead it will involve the replacement of squadrons of aircraft the U.S. sent to the region earlier this summer after Iran carried out a series of attacks on commercial shipping and downed an American drone. The squadrons sent during that time were not originally scheduled to be replaced. One of those squadrons will also be extended, said a U.S. official.
The U.S. aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln has been in the Gulf region since May and is expected to depart later this year. No decision has been made yet if another carrier will replace it because the USS Harry S. Truman that was its scheduled replacement remains in Norfolk, Virginia for unscheduled repairs to its electrical systems.
"Since May, the Department of Defense has increased the number of forces by approximately 14,000 to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility as an investment into regional security," Hoffman said. "As we have stated, the United States does not seek conflict with the Iranian regime, but we will retain a robust military capability in the region that is ready to respond to any crisis and will defend U.S. forces and interest in the region."