U.S. sending another 1,000 troops to Middle East in response to oil tanker attack
Stars and Stripes
The Pentagon on Monday announced it would deploy about 1,000 new troops to the Middle East “for defensive purposes” and released new imagery it says shows Iranian troops’ involvement in the attacks on two tankers June 13 in the Gulf of Oman.
Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan announced the new deployment in a statement released by the Pentagon late Monday. It said the tanker attacks and other incidents carried out by the Iranians or their proxy forces required sending more forces to protect US troops deployed throughout the region.
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran,” Shanahan said in the statement. “The action today is being taken to ensure the safety and welfare of our military personnel working throughout the region and to protect our national interests.”
The deployment was requested by U.S. Central Command Chief Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie. It will include forces to beef up the United States intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities in the region as well as force protection troops, according to a Pentagon official, who was not authorized to release additional information and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official did not provide specifics on the makeup of the new troops.
Shanahan’s brief statement came just hours after the Pentagon released previously classified still images it said clearly identified Iran as the culprit in the tanker attacks last week.
The 11 new images were declassified on Monday as the U.S. Government works to provide evidence to the American people and allies that the Iranian regime is behind the attacks amid growing tensions between the United States and Tehran.
Pentagon officials said the images — as well as a video released last week — show an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Gashti Class Patrol Boat approaching the Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous, apparently to retrieve one of the magnetic mines that did not explode.
Iran has denied it was involved. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo unequivocally blamed Iran in a public speech from the State Department just hours after the attacks last week. President Donald Trump and Shanahan have made similar assessments of the attacks.
Two Navy explosive ordnance disposal officials said on Monday that damage to the vessel displayed in some of the photographs indicated the use of limpet mines, magnetic explosives that are typically placed by hand on the hull of a ship. Limpet mines have been in use by numerous navies and other actors since at least World War II.
The EOD officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter, said the placement of the mines above the vessel’s waterline indicated the attackers did not intend to sink the Kokuka Courageous. The officials said they were not involved in the ongoing investigation into the incident and did not have direct knowledge of that probe.
One of the photos released Monday allegedly shows a piece of the unexploded limpet mine that was left behind on the side of the Kokuka Courageous, according to the Pentagon. One of the EOD officials described the remnants as likely a magnet left behind, and explained that typically limpet mines would be placed using multiple magnets.
The official said limpet mines can vary greatly in size and can include military-class weapons or improvised explosives. The official said it would be difficult to determine precisely where a limpet mine originated from based solely on examining the device.
The Pentagon also released an image of what it says are members of the IRGC on their boat after the removable of the mine. The photo was taken from a Navy MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter and shows about nine people aboard a small vessel that includes a heavy weapon mounted toward the front of the boat. Most of the individuals on the boat appear to be wearing orange life vests.
The Japanese owner of the tanker said Friday that the ship’s crew saw flying objects that hit the ship, according to a Washington Post report. The EOD officials did not rule out a projectile as being responsible for the damage shown in the new photographs, however they said a torpedo would not have caused such damage.
The new photos come one day after U.S. Central Command said Iran-backed Houthi rebels had shot down an American MQ-9 drone on June 6. CENTCOM also said Iranian forces had unsuccessfully attempted to shoot down another Reaper on June 13 as the drone approached the other ship attacked that day in the Gulf of Oman, the M/T Front Altair, which was on fire.
Since last year, when President Donald Trump withdrew America from the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran reached with world powers, the administration has been imposing sanctions that have strained Iran’s economy and have cut into its oil exports.
In response, Iran’s leaders repeatedly have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s oil flows. Tehran also has threatened to begin enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels if European nations don’t offer new terms for the nuclear agreement.
In recent weeks, the United States has sped a U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Group and an Air Force bomber task force into the Middle East and deployed more than 1,000 additional troops, including Patriot missile operators in response to intelligence it said showed Iran or its proxies intended to attack American in the region.
Iran has accused the United States of raising tensions in the region, calling American forces a destabilizing presence and designating them a terrorist group. Washington, however, has said its moves are only aimed at protecting its interests and allies in the region. Trump and others have said they do not want a war with Iran and only want to drive the regime to bargaining table in an attempt to strike a new nuclear accord.
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