In the last eight months, US troop levels in the Middle East have increased by one-third, and new arrivals can expect to be there “for quite a while,” a top US general said earlier this week.
“You’re here because I requested that you come,” US Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, who commands US Central Command (CENTCOM), told sailors and Marines aboard the USS Bataan in the Red Sea on Thursday, according to AP. “I’m not sure how long you’re going to stay in the theater. We’ll work that out as we go ahead. Could be quite a while, could be less than that, just don’t know right now.”
McKenzie’s comments come amid a heated debate in Washington about redeploying US troops for confrontation with Russia and China on the one hand, and increasing pressure on US forces in the Persian Gulf as Washington pushes ever closer to war with Iran on the other.
Troop shifts proposed by Pentagon leaders, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, could see as many as 200,000 service members shifted toward theaters more likely to see conflict with Moscow or Beijing, with most of them going to US Indo-Pacific Command, Sputnik reported.
While the US Armed Forces has 1.3 million people under arms, merely 170,000 are deployed abroad, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Manpower Data Center. That means some of the 83,000 troops under CENTCOM authority would likely be moved elsewhere under the proposed plan.
US federal lawmakers have voiced their unease with the plan, though, fretting that the US cannot simply abandon its commitments to its allies.
“A decrease in our investment now may result in the need for the United States to reinvest at many more times the cost down the road,” leading members of the House Armed Services Committee said in a January 16 letter to Esper obtained by Defense News.
But to McKenzie, the increased US troop presence in the region is sending a message to Iran, which traded shots with the Pentagon earlier this month when it bombarded US bases in Iraq following the US assassination of a leading Iranian general while he was in Iraq.
“The message is, we don’t seek war with you. You should not seek war with us. And we would like to de-escalate to a lower level of tensions, if that’s possible,” he said Thursday on the Bataan, an amphibious assault ship capable of serving both as an aircraft carrier and as a dock for marine assaults. The Bataan’s deployment to the region is one of several equipment shifts that have included an aircraft carrier battle group, nuclear-capable bombers and 20,000 additional troops being moved within striking distance of Iran.
“We’re in a very delicate time in the Central Command theater as a result of the events of the last couple of weeks,” McKenzie said. “What we want to do is we want to convince the Iranians that now is not a good time to do something goofy.”