President Donald Trump has contradicted reports that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan proposed a plan that would send 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East.
“I think it’s fake news,” he told reporters at the White House Tuesday, according to The Hill. “Now would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that.”
“Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that,” he added.
The New York Times reported on Monday that Shanahan proposed the plan with the support of national security adviser John Bolton in the event Iran attacks American interests or accelerates work on nuclear weapons.
The report was the latest in the current tensions in the Middle East. Bolton announced on May 5 that the U.S. was sending the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group into the Persian Gulf and also ordering a task force of B-52 bombers to the region.
Officials said that unspecified threats coming from Iran against American interests had been detected. The U.S. has since augmented its military presence with the USS Arlington, which can land troops and Patriot missile batteries.
In response, Iran has said the U.S. should not begin a military building up its doorstep and responded to the American actions with bellicose language.
The Times report said no final decision has been made on any response to a potential Iranian action and noted that the size of the force being considered would be roughly the size of the one that invaded Iraq in 2003. The report said that the force would be developed over weeks or months.
“The president has been clear, the United States does not seek military conflict with Iran, and he is open to talks with Iranian leadership,” Garrett Marquis, a National Security Council spokesman, told The Times in an email.
“However, Iran’s default option for 40 years has been violence, and we are ready to defend U.S. personnel and interests in the region,” he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met Monday with European counterparts, who have voiced fears that the Persian Gulf could explode in conflict.
“We are very worried about the risk of a conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side,” said Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s foreign secretary.
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that a U.S. military team examining several ships attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates believed that either Iran or Iran-backed agents blew holes in four ships at or near the waterline.
No official claim of Iranian involvement has been made, although Saudi officials were pointing the finger at Iran-backed groups in Yemen.
— Reuters India (@ReutersIndia) May 13, 2019
One U.S. official counseled caution in the aftermath of the incident.
“We need to do a thorough investigation to understand what happened, why it happened, and then come up with reasonable responses short of war,” John Abizaid, America’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said Tuesday, according to Reuters.
Trump was asked about the incident Monday at a White House event.
“We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens, I can tell you that. They’re not going to be happy. They are not going to be happy people. OK?,” Trump said, according to a White House media pool report.
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