Patrick Shanahan, acting US Defense on Monday announced the deployment of about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East for what he said were “defensive purposes,” citing concerns about a threat from Iran.
“I have authorised approximately 1,000 additional troops for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East,” acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan said in a statement.
“The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behaviour by Iranian forces and their proxy groups that threaten United States personnel and interests across the region,” Shanahan said.
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” the statement said, adding that the deployment is aimed “to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests”.
The announcement comes just hours after the US military released new pictures that it claimed showed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were behind an attack on one of the two tankers near the Strait of Hormuz.
“Iran is responsible for the attack based on video evidence and the resources and proficiency needed to quickly remove the unexploded limpet mine,” the Pentagon said in a statement accompanying the imagery.
The US released a grainy black and white video last week it said showed the Iranians removing the mine, but has not provided an explanation for why they allegedly did so while the US military was in the area.
Fears of a confrontation between Iran and the US have mounted since last Thursday when two oil tankers were attacked, drawing condemnation from the US and its regional allies, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Tehran denies the allegations as “baseless”.
Iran said on Monday it would soon breach limits on how much enriched uranium it can stockpile under a nuclear deal, which a White House National Security Council spokesman said amounted to “nuclear blackmail.”
Under the agreement, Iran pledged to reduce its nuclear capacities for several years and allow international inspectors inside the country to monitor its activities in return for relief from international sanctions.
The deal set a limit on the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges, and restricted its right to enrich uranium to no higher than 3.67 percent, well below weapons-grade levels of around 90 percent.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Iran to continue to abide by the 2015 deal and for all parties to refrain from steps that may escalate tensions in the Middle East.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated ever since the US quit the nuclear deal last May, with Washington bolstering its military presence in the region and blacklisting Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization.