WASHINGTON, Oct 21 (Reuters) – The United States will send a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and additional battalions of the Patriot air defense missile system to the Middle East, the Pentagon said on Saturday, in response to recent attacks against US troops in the region.
The United States has sent a significant amount of naval power to the Middle East in recent weeks, including two aircraft carriers, their support ships and about 2,000 Marines.
Washington is on high alert for activity by Iranian-backed groups as regional tensions rise during the war between Israel and Hamas.
“Following detailed discussions with President (Joe) Biden regarding the recent escalations by Iran and its allied forces throughout the Middle East region, today I directed a series of additional steps to further strengthen the Department of Defense’s posture in the region” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. he said in a statement.
Austin said he was sending additional troops with deployment readiness orders, but did not say how many. The Pentagon has already placed about 2,000 troops in a heightened state of readiness in case they need to deploy to the region.
“These measures will strengthen regional deterrence efforts, increase the protection of US forces in the region and assist in the defense of Israel,” Austin added.
The deployments come two years after the Biden administration withdrew air defense systems from the Middle East, citing a reduction in tensions with Iran.
The Patriot, considered one of the most advanced air defense systems in the United States, is often in short supply and there are allies around the world competing for it.
The THAAD system has a powerful radar. The US deployment of the system in South Korea in 2016 angered China, which believed it could peer into its airspace.
There has been an increase in attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria since the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza broke out. Last week, a US warship shot down more than a dozen drones and four cruise missiles fired by Iran-backed Houthis from Yemen.
Israel began its “all-out siege” of Gaza after an Oct. 7 cross-border attack on southern Israel by Islamist movement militants killed 1,400 people, mainly civilians, in an attack that has traumatized Israel.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Saturday that Israel’s air and missile strikes had killed at least 4,385 Palestinians, including hundreds of children, and that more than a million of the small territory’s 2.3 million inhabitants had been displaced.
Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Edited by William Mallard
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National security correspondent focused on the Pentagon in Washington DC Reports on US military activity and operations around the world and the impact they have. He has reported from more than two dozen countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan and much of the Middle East, Asia and Europe. From Karachi, Pakistan.
Phil Stewart has reported from more than 60 countries, including Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and South Sudan. An award-winning national security reporter based in Washington, Phil has appeared on NPR, PBS NewsHour, Fox News and other programs and has moderated national security events, including the Reagan National Defense Forum and the German Marshall Fund. He received the Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence and the Joe Galloway Award.