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US to send 2,000 additional troops to Saudi Arabia

US forces head to kingdom after attack on Saudi oil facilities last month, Pentagon says
US Navy ships on 10 August conduct replenishment-at-sea with oiler ship in Gulf waters (AFP photo/US Navy)

The United States has announced plans to send thousands of troops to Saudi Arabia to bolster the kingdom's defences after an attack on its oil facilities last month. 

The Pentagon said on Friday that about 2,000 additional troops will be sent to Saudi Arabia, along with jet fighter squadrons, one air expeditionary wing and air defence personnel. This would be the second troop increase related to recent attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

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The Pentagon said it was also sending two additional Patriot batteries and one Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD).

"Taken together with other deployments, this constitutes an additional 3,000 forces that have been extended or authorised within the last month," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.

It was unclear whether some of the newly announced troops would replace other American forces expected to depart the region in the coming weeks.

Following the announcement, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the move demonstrates Washington's "commitment to upholding the rules-based international order". 

"We thought that it was important to deploy forces to deter and defend and to send the message to the Iranians: ‘Do not strike another sovereign state. Do not threaten American interests and forces or we will respond’," Esper said, speaking to reporters. 

Tensions in the Gulf 

The addition of troops to the region comes after an attack earlier on Friday on an Iranian oil tanker, which caused oil prices to jump by two percentage points, with benchmark Brent and US West Texas Intermediate crude futures rising more than $1 a barrel. 

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The Iranian government said it suspects that the attack was caused by missiles fired off the Saudi port city of Jeddah. Iranian state media reported that experts suspected it was a "terrorist attack".

There was no immediate acknowledgement from Saudi Arabia about the explosion.

Since May, the Defence Department has increased by about 14,000 the number of forces of the US Central Command, which oversees all operations in the Middle East, "as an investment into regional security", according to the Pentagon. 

The most recent deployment is part of a series of what the United States has described as defensive moves following the attack on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities on 14 September, which rattled global energy markets and exposed major gaps in the kingdom's air defences.

Yemen's Houthi group claimed responsibility for the attacks, but both Saudi Arabia and the United States have accused Iran of carrying them out, which Tehran denies.