Trump approves deployment of US forces in Saudi Arabia

20 September 2019, 23:56 | Updated: 21 September 2019, 21:06

Donald Trump has approved the deployment of US forces to Saudi Arabia following the attack on two oil facilities in the country.

Troops and military equipment will also be sent to neighbouring United Arab Emirates, a Saudi ally.

The Pentagon described the deployment as "moderate", adding that forces will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defence.

US Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said personnel would not be in the thousands but he was not more specific.

The Abqaiq facility and the Khurais oil field were attacked in the early hours of last Saturday, causing a reduction of more than half in Saudi Arabia's daily oil exports - more than 5% of the world's daily production.

Houthi rebels - backed by Iran - initially said they were responsible for the attack. But in recent days, the finger has been pointed directly at Iran.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said troops and equipment were being sent in response to a request from the Saudis and UAE for help improving their air and missile defences.

Mr Esper added that sending troops was a first step and he is not ruling out additional moves in future.

It means that, at least for now, Mr Trump has decided against any military strike on Iran in response to the attacks.

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Earlier, he said that restraint "shows far more strength", as he outlined new sanctions on the Iranian central bank.

"Because the easiest thing I could do, 'Okay, go ahead. Knock out 15 different major things in Iran'. But I'm not
looking to do that if I can," he added.

Saudi Arabia has said it was attacked by 25 drones and missiles last weekend and US officials have said they suspect the attack was launched from southwest Iran.

Gen Dunford said military experts were still considering the best way to help the Saudis defend themselves, noting the difficulty in combating a drone attack.

He said: "No single system is going to be able to defend against a threat like that, but a layered system of defensive capabilities would mitigate the risk of swarms of drones or other attacks that may come from Iran."

Iran denies any involvement in the attack on the oil facilities.