President Donald Trump on Tuesday dismissed a report that he was reviewing a plan to send hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to the Middle East, saying he’d send “a hell of a lot more troops than that” if he decided to get more aggressive with Iran.
The New York Times reported Monday that top national security officials at the White House were presented last week with an updated plan by acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan that “envisions sending as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack American forces or accelerate work on nuclear weapons.”
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“I think it’s fake news, OK?” Trump told reporters while leaving the White House Tuesday. “Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that. If we did that, we would send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
The conflict in Iran took several turns last week, with the U.S. deploying a Navy strike group and a unit of B-52 bombers to the region early in the week, followed by another warship and a battery of air-defense missiles, in response to what U.S. officials said was intelligence about threats from Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has twice diverted foreign trips in response to moves by Tehran, most recently scrapping a meeting with U.S. embassy staff in Moscow to meet with European leaders in Brussels.
Iran last week marked the one-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal by announcing that it would stop complying with parts of the pact. That move was met with U.S. sanctions on its metals sectors, after Washington had already tightened its grip on Iranian exports of enriched uranium and oil.
But despite increasing tensions with Tehran, Trump also said last week he would be willing to reenter talks, urging President Hassan Rouhani to give him a call. And while Trump has said he would confront Iran with military action if necessary, he has also said he opposes unnecessary military conflict in the Middle East, announcing plans to pull most American troops out of both Syria and Afghanistan.
The Times reported that officials including national security adviser John Bolton, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Joseph Dunford, CIA Director Gina Haspell and director of national intelligence Dan Coats attended the meeting last week at which potential troop levels were discussed. The 120,000 figure was at the high end of that spectrum, according to the paper.