The U.S. military is sending roughly 200 troops, a surface-to-air missile battery and several advanced radars to Saudi Arabia, the Pentagon said in a statement Thursday, after well-orchestrated attacks this month on a Saudi oil refinery that American and Saudi officials blamed on Iran.
The small deployment of defensive military hardware is tepid in comparison to some of the remarks leveled by American officials in the days after the Sept. 14 strikes. Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the attack “an act of war” and, at one point, President Donald Trump was weighing the option of retaliatory airstrikes.
“It is important to note these steps are a demonstration of our commitment to regional partners, and the security and stability in the Middle East,” a Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, said in the statement.
While the administration is not ruling out military strikes in the future, the announcement was additional evidence that the president was content to remain within the parameters of defense, not offense, for now.
It is unclear if the new forces will deploy from American bases in the Middle East or from the United States. There are roughly 500 U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, part of a 2,000-strong contingent that was dispatched to the region after a rash of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and the shooting down this summer of an American drone by an Iranian surface-to-air missile over the strait of Hormuz.
The new deployment includes one Patriot missile battery, a surface-to-air holdover from the Cold War that is currently also used by the Saudi military. The other equipment includes four advanced Sentinel radars that can track drones and cruise missiles. On Thursday, Lockheed Martin, the producer of the Sentinel, won a $281 million contract to supply the Army with 18 of the radars.
Tehran has denied any participation in the Sept. 14 attacks, even though American officials indicated that the strikes did not originate in Yemen, where Houthi forces — backed often with Iranian military hardware — have long struck deep inside Saudi Arabia with drones and missiles.
The strike on the refinery caused no casualties but disrupted global oil markets and called into question the Saudi military’s ability to protect some of its most valuable infrastructure as some of the missiles evaded radar detection before hitting the refinery.