WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump is sending a modest deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia, along with air and missile defense systems, in response to the attacks on Saudi oil facilities, which the administration blames on Iran.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper called the decision, which came Friday during a White House meeting with top national security officials, "defensive in nature."
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the precise number of US troops headed to the region had not been determined, but that it would be a "moderate deployment" in the hundreds, not thousands.
Trump had been weighing whether to take direct military action against Iran in response to the attacks on Saudi Arabia, which rattled global energy markets and which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week called "an act of war."
Although the administration is not ruling out military strikes, senior officials indicated that, for now, the president was content to remain within the parameters of defense, not offense.
Pressed by reporters about whether the administration was still considering so-called kinetic action, or military strikes, Esper said, "That's not where we are right now."
The new deployment adds to the 2,000 troops the United States has deployed to the Middle East since June as a show of force following a series of Iranian provocations.
The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said Thursday that a military strike against Iran by the United States or Saudi Arabia would result in "an all-out war."
Tehran denies any role in the Saudi attack.
Earlier Friday, Trump announced a new round of sanctions against Iran's national bank, and the administration is said to be considering a range of additional actions, including more cyberattacks.
The latest sanctions affect the Central Bank of Iran and the National Development Fund of Iran, "the last remaining source of funds," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.