US considering troop boost to counter Iran

US says Iran protest toll may surpass 1,000, European powers say Tehran is working on nuclear-capable missiles

Agence France-Presse . Washington | Published: 22:11, Dec 06,2019


The United States said Thursday it was considering deploying fresh forces to counter Iran, with an official saying some 5,000 to 7,000 troops could head to the region.

Testifying before Congress, John Rood, the undersecretary of defence for policy, said the United States was ‘observing Iran’s behaviour with concern.’

‘We’re continuing to look at that threat picture and have the ability to dynamically adjust our force posture,’ Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A US official said on condition of anonymity that defence secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East.

The official did not confirm where the troops would be sent, or in what timeframe, but said that the deployment would be due to frustrations with Iranian-linked groups’ attacks on US assets.

Rood, under questioning, denied a report by The Wall Street Journal the United States was considering sending 14,000 more troops - equivalent to the number sent over the past six months.

Esper also denied the 14,000 figure in a phone call with Senator Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the committee, Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said.

US president Donald Trump later tweeted that, ‘The story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!’

It was not immediately clear which report the president was referring to.

Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions, including trying to block all its oil exports.

The United States said Thursday that Iranian authorities may have killed more than 1,000 people in a crackdown on demonstrations, which Washington cast as the clerical regime’s worst-ever internal challenge.

Meanwhile, Britain, France and Germany have accused Iran of developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in a letter dismissed by Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif on Thursday as ‘a desperate falsehood’.

UN ambassadors for the three countries said in the letter to UN secretary general Antonio Guterres that Iran’s actions were ‘inconsistent’ with the UN resolution enshrining a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

But Zarif on Twitter said the Europeans were covering up their own ‘miserable incompetence’ at abiding by the nuclear deal and were ‘bowing to US bullying’.

The letter referred to footage shared on social media in April this year of the test flight of a new Shabab-3 medium range ballistic missile variant that was ‘technically capable of delivering a nuclear weapon’.

The European powers also pointed to three other launches this year, including that of the Borkan-3, a new medium-range ballistic missile tested by Iranian-backed Houthi forces in Yemen on August 2.

The letter, dated November 21, said these flights were ‘the latest in a long series of advances in Iranian ballistic missile technology’.

Iran’s UN ambassador responded in a letter saying the European powers were using ‘unreliable sources’ and ‘outdated reports’ to make misleading arguments.

‘Iran is determined to resolutely continue its activities related to ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles, both of which are within its inherent rights under international law,’ the letter said.

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