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US deploys troops to Saudi Arabia over Iran threat

By AFP

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US Marine Corps Gen. and US CENTCOM commander Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. and Arab coalition commander Lt. Gen. Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz Al Saud are shown reportedly Iranian weapons seized from the Houthis by Saudi forces at a military base in the kingdom on July 18th. McKenzie pledged to work 'aggressively' to ensure maritime safety in strategic Gulf waters after a spate of attacks blamed on Iran. [Fayez Nureldine/AFP]

The Pentagon has announced it will bolster US forces in Saudi Arabia, after Riyadh asked for reinforcements following the September 14th attacks on Saudi oil plants which the US and the kingdom blame on Iran.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper on Friday (October 10th) announced that two fighter squadrons and additional missile defence batteries were being sent to Saudi Arabia, for a total of about 3,000 new troops from September this year.

The move comes as tensions jumped Friday after Tehran said that suspected missiles had struck an Iranian tanker in the Red Sea off the coast of Jeddah.

Tehran did not blame Riyadh for the attack, and US defence officials said they were still looking into it and had no immediate explanation.

Esper said he had on Friday spoken with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to discuss adding US firepower to the kingdom's defenses against Iranian attacks.

"It is clear that the Iranians are responsible for the recent attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities," he said.

"Despite Iran's attempts to deny their involvement, the evidence recovered so far proves that Tehran is responsible for these attacks," Esper said.

The September 14th attacks knocked out two major Aramco oil processing facilities in Khurais and Abqaiq, roughly halving Saudi Arabia's oil production.

Washington condemned the attacks as an "act of war".

The incident added to tensions already soaring since early this year when Iran was accused of attaching mines to several tankers moored off Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and then attacking or seizing others near the crucial Strait of Hormuz.

14,000 more US troops since May

Esper said that since May the US has increased its 70,000-strong presence in the Middle East by 14,000 personnel, most of those deployed to the Gulf region in response to Iran's actions.

"The US military has on alert additional army, navy, marine and air force units to quickly provide increased capability in the region if necessary," he said.

He also urged US allies in Europe to follow the US lead with their own defensive assets "for regional stability".

The deployments authorized Friday include two additional fighter squadrons, and supporting personnel, along with additional Patriot and THAAD missile defence batteries.

The explosion on the Iranian tanker in the Red Sea Friday remained a mystery.

The National Iranian Tanker Company said the hull of the Sabiti was hit by two separate explosions off of Jeddah, saying they were "probably caused by missile strikes".

It initially blamed Saudi Arabia but then recanted the allegation, and no one claimed responsibility.

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