VOA Persian’s Mehrnoush Karimian contributed to this report from the State Department.
PENTAGON — Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has denied reports that between 5,000 and 10,000 U.S. troops could be sent to the Middle East to defend against a potential threat by Iran.
“There is no 10,000. There’s no 5,000. That’s not accurate,” he told reporters, referring to a Reuters report that the Pentagon was considering sending 5,000 defensive troops to the region, and an AP report that up to 10,000 could be deployed.
VOA had reported that Shanahan and Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would provide the president with a wide range of options Thursday in response to rising tensions in the Middle East, including possibly sending thousands more U.S. troops to the region.
Shanahan confirmed this ahead of his presidential briefing at the White House, telling reporters he was considering deploying more U.S. forces.
“What we’re looking at is, are there things that we can do to enhance force protection in the Middle East?” Shanahan said. “It may involve sending additional troops.”
The request for additional force protection came from the U.S. Central Command chief, Marine Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie. Shanahan said the request was part of a “normal back and forth” with CENTCOM, but added that it was “at a higher-elevated level, given all the dynamics there in the Middle East.”
It is not clear if the White House will approve sending additional forces or equipment, such as more Patriot missile batteries or ships. It is also not clear where those additional resources would come from, if approved.
In a phone conference Thursday with reporters, Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine expressed strong opposition to any possible U.S. military confrontation with Iran.
“You’ve seen very bellicose tweets from the president. You’ve seen bellicose language used by both the secretary of state and the national security adviser. It would be a colossal disaster if the United States were involved in Iran,” he said.
Tensions between Tehran and Washington have been escalating since President Donald Trump announced his decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats.
“Iran has been a very dangerous player, very bad player. They are a nation of terror, and we won’t put up with it,” Trump said Thursday.
Speaking to VOA Persian at the State Department on Wednesday, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said the U.S. would use military force against Iran “only if we were attacked first.” He said the Trump administration believed that Iran-backed attacks on U.S. interests were “imminent” but had not yet seen such attacks materialize.
Hook also reiterated Trump’s offer to receive a phone call from Iranian leaders to talk about negotiating an end to their perceived malign behaviors.
“He has made that clear repeatedly,” Hook said. “So has Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and so have I. We haven’t heard from the Iranians. So that is a choice that they are going to have to make. We encourage Iran to take advantage of the president’s offer.”
Last week, Trump told Shanahan that he did not want to go to war with Iran.
Sending additional U.S. troops to the region would mark a shift in position for Trump, who has repeatedly said in the past he wanted to reduce the number of U.S. troops in the region.
Last December, Trump announced the withdrawal of 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. In February, however, he decided to keep about 400 U.S. troops there.