The US will deploy more troops and weapons to Saudi Arabia in an effort to deter Iranian aggression in the Middle East, according to Mark Esper, the defence secretary.
Mr Esper said on Friday that the Pentagon would send two fighter squadrons, two Patriot surface-to-air missile systems and an anti-ballistic missile defence system along with extra troops, in the latest phase of the US response to the alleged Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities last month.
In a separate move aimed at the Turkish incursion into north-east Syria, Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, said President Donald Trump would sign an executive order “to dissuade Turkey from any further offensive military action in north-east Syria”. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have previously signalled that they are preparing to roll out sanctions to punish Ankara for the military campaign.
“We will be targeting specific Turkish individuals or departments as needed,” Mr Mnuchin said in a statement. “This is a notice to banks and other parties to be on notice of potential actions.”
The dual moves come as the US tries to help allies such as Saudi Arabia protect themselves from Iran, even as Mr Trump faces heavy fire for removing troops from critical areas in Syria — which critics said amounted to abandoning US-backed Kurdish fighters who were battling Isis.
Brian Hook, a top state department official, denied there was any contradiction in removing troops from one area, while sending more forces to Saudi Arabia.
“The president has said he is getting us out of endless wars,” he said. “The troops that we are sending in to Saudi and the enhanced assets are defensive. They’re there to defend our interests and help Saudi defend itself. We’re not looking for conflict in the Middle East.”
The US has deployed roughly 3,000 more troops to the Middle East in the last month, and 14,000 extra troops since May, according to the Pentagon. In September, the US announced that it was sending 200 troops, a surface-to-air missile system and radar equipment to Saudi Arabia.
The region is on high alert after attacks on vital energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. The US is also grappling with the Turkish incursion into north-east Syria following the withdrawal of a small number of US troops from the border area this week.
On Thursday, Mr Esper called Turkish defence secretary Hulusi Akar to warn that Ankara’s military operations could harm progress made by the US and other allies in the fight against Isis. Mr Esper also told Mr Akar that he was concerned Turkish forces could harm US personnel in Syria.
General Mark Milley, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, on Friday said Turkish forces “know exactly” where US troops are, and that the two militaries were communicating over the matter.
“Everyone is fully aware that we are the US military, and we retain the right to self-defence,” said Gen Milley.
For now, Kurdish forces remain in control of prisons holding Isis fighters, the Pentagon said. Gen Milley said the US had no legal responsibility for the detainees.
Although the Trump administration has been broadly criticised for allowing Turkey to attack US-backed Kurdish forces, Mr Esper insisted the US and Kurds were still working together.
Mr Esper said he wanted to be “very clear” that the US had not abandoned the Kurds, but that it would not put its troops “in the middle of a longstanding conflict between Turkey and the Kurds”.
The Treasury announcement comes at a fragile time for the Turkish economy. The country is still recovering from last year’s painful currency crisis — triggered by previous US sanctions — which wiped 30 per cent off the value of the lira.
The IMF last month warned that “the current calm appears fragile,” citing concerns about corporate debt, low foreign currency reserves and Turkey’s heavy reliance on foreign financing.
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