U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed Tuesday a recent report suggesting the Pentagon has drawn up plans that calls for Washington to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East to respond to any military attack on American forces from Iran.
Those plans, the New York Times reported, were presented to the White House last Thursday by Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan after Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton and other Iran hard-liners called for them to be compiled.
They do not include sufficient forces to carry out a land invasion of Iran.
When asked about the report, Trump was usually dismissive, calling it “fake news,” but suggested he is not opposed to an even more robust deployment of U.S. forces.
“Now, would I do that? Absolutely,” he told reporters at the White House. “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.”
Tensions have run high since the U.S. raised the alarm over unspecified threats from Iran to U.S. forces. The administration has remained tight-lipped about what those threats are, but the Times said it is intelligence indicating Iran was planning to use its proxy forces in Iraq and Syria to strike American forces.
But during a briefing Tuesday, the deputy commander of the U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition denied there has been an “increased threat” from Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria.
“We are monitoring the Shia militia groups I think you’re referring to carefully,” British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika told reporters. “If the threat level perceives to go up, then we’ll raise our force protection measures accordingly.”
Should Trump choose to send the 120,000 troops to the region he would be deploying a number of service members approaching those used for the 2003 invasion of Iraq — a decision Trump has repeatedly bemoaned amid his push to wind down American troops stationed abroad.
Bolton played a key role in advancing the cause for the Iraq invasion under then-President George W. Bush, but Bush ignored Bolton’s efforts for military action on Iran.
After leaving his post as UN ambassador in 2006 Bolton called for military strikes on Iran and regime change there as a private citizen, efforts he continued right up until he joined the Trump administration in April 2018.
The plans reportedly presented by Shanahan are not the first time Bolton called for the Pentagon to draw up plans to attack Iran since he became national security advisor.
He first did so in September when Iran-backed militias fired mortars at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, according to the Times.
“In response to Mr. Bolton’s request, which alarmed Jim Mattis, then the defense secretary, the Pentagon offered some general options, including a cross-border airstrike on an Iranian military facility that would have been mostly symbolic,” the Times said, referring to the former defense chief who resigned in protest in December.