In response to a request from U.S. Central Command for additional forces, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan has authorized about 1,000 additional troops for defensive purposes to address air, naval and ground-based threats in the Middle East.
In a statement, Shanahan said he made his decision with the advice of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in consultation with the White House.
"The recent Iranian attacks validate the reliable, credible intelligence we have received on hostile behavior 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 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 acting secretary added that officials would continue to monitor the situation diligently and make adjustments to force levels as necessary given intelligence reporting and credible threats.
The Iranian attack on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman is just the latest example of the country's attempts to destabilize the Middle East to its advantage, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said June 13.
A Japanese tanker, the M/T Kokuka Courageous, and a Norwegian tanker, the M/T Altair, were damaged by limpet mines while steaming in international waters. U.S. officials placed the blame for the attack on Iran.
The USS Bainbridge responded to the attacks and rescued the crewmen from one of the vessels.
"It is the assessment of the United States government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman," Pompeo said in a June 13 news conference. "This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication."
Iran carried out a similar attack May 12 that damaged four merchant ships: two from Saudi Arabia, one from the United Arab Emirates and one from Norway.
The attack last week "is only the latest in a series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogates against American and allied interests, and they should be understood in the context of 40 years of unprovoked aggression against freedom-loving nations," Pompeo said.
In April, the Iranian government said it would interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. Roughly a fifth of the world’s oil is shipped through the strait. The strait — between Oman and Iran — is 33 miles wide, with a 2-mile wide shipping lane. It is a choke point in the truest sense of the term.
U.S. officials believe this latest attack is part of the Iranian campaign to close the vital waterway.
The campaign by Iran and its proxies, has had a number of incidents, officials said. In early May, the Revolutionary Guard Corps attempted the covert deployment of modified dhows capable of launching missiles. On May 14, Iran-backed surrogates used armed drones to attack two strategically important oil pipelines into Saudi Arabia.
On May 19, a rocket landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and on May 31, a car bomb in Afghanistan wounded four U.S. service members, killed four Afghan civilians, and wounded bystanders. On June 11, Iranian surrogates fired a missile into Saudi Arabia from Yemen, striking the arrivals terminal of an international airport, injuring 26 people.
"Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran," Pompeo said.
On June 14, Shanahan told reporters the Iranian attacks are an international situation. "The focus for myself and [National Security Advisor John] Bolton and Secretary Pompeo is to build international consensus to this international problem."
The Defense Department's role is to set the conditions for diplomacy, the secretary said, adding that the department will share intelligence information about the attack when it is appropriate as part of building the international consensus.
"Iran should meet diplomacy with diplomacy, not with terror, bloodshed and extortion," Pompeo said. "The United States will defend its forces, interests, and stand with our partners and allies to safeguard global commerce and regional stability. And we call upon all nations threatened by Iran's provocative acts to join us in that endeavor."
The United States, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have declared the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist entity. The corps was formed just after the 1979 Iranian takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the kidnapping of 52 American diplomats for 444 days.
The Iranian government is a theocracy ruled by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guard Corps is nominally a branch of the Iranian armed forces. Since 1979, Iran has fomented trouble throughout the Middle East. The nation is a prime sponsor of Hezbollah. Iran props up the Houthis in Yemen. It supplied arms and money to Shiia groups in Iraq. Iran also provided explosively formed projectiles to those groups that were particularly deadly, officials said.
Iran is sponsoring groups in Syria in hopes of building a "Shiia crescent" from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Turkey and ending on the Mediterranean in Lebanon, officials added.