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Trump Deploys Troops To Middle East After Attack On Saudi Oil Facility


And more now on those new U.S. deployments to Saudi Arabia. Defense Secretary Mark Esper made that announcement yesterday.


MARK ESPER: Saudi Arabia requested international support to help protect the kingdom's critical infrastructure. The United Arab Emirates has also requested assistance. In response to the kingdom's request, the president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces, which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense.

SIMON: Earlier President Trump announced that there were going to be more financial sanctions against Iran. But those measures fall short of the locked-and-loaded position that the president enunciated a few days ago. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: You're welcome, Scott.

SIMON: How many troops? How will they be deployed?

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, the Pentagon officials didn't say how many troops. They indicated it would be hundreds and not thousands. Already, there are about 500 U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia operating Patriot missile batteries. And so, you know, again, we don't have a precise number - hundreds, not thousands.

SIMON: What does the defense secretary say about the nature of their mission?

BOWMAN: Well, he didn't really say, other than air defense systems. So we don't know exactly. You could send more Patriot missile batteries over there. There are other assets you could send. There are these blimps called aerostats that can be used. They rise hundreds of feet into the air. They're tethered. And they have radar systems on them. There's also jamming equipment you could send over that could jam the guidance systems of missiles or drones.

And there's also something called a Phalanx gun system, which can shoot down missiles or drones. They use them at U.S. bases in Afghanistan. And I saw one being demonstrated there just a couple of weeks ago. Scott, picture R2-D2 from "Star Wars" spewing hundreds of bullets into the air. That's what this system looks like. But again, no specifics on what they'll be sending.

SIMON: They sound all like defensive systems, too.

BOWMAN: Oh, absolutely - all defensive systems.

SIMON: The president often praises Saudi Arabia for buying hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. weaponry. And I wonder, Tom, if Pentagon officials have offered you an explanation of why the Saudis, armed with all this expensive U.S. equipment, couldn't defend themselves against an attack on a well-known oil - on well-known oil facilities, which they must have known would have been vulnerable to an attack from someone.

BOWMAN: Yeah, right. They really don't have an explanation. Clearly it was a serious lapse on the part of the Saudis. We do know the defensive systems they do have all pointed toward Yemen because the Saudis are embroiled now in a fight with the Houthi rebels in Yemen. But why they didn't protect these critical oil facilities is clearly a mystery. But there's no question they'll be buying a lot more defensive equipment from U.S. defense contractors in the coming weeks and months.

SIMON: Well, I guess (laughter) - well, I guess that's happy for U.S. defense systems, isn't it?

BOWMAN: Absolutely.

SIMON: This is, as Ron Elving also - Ron Elving referred to it as a seemingly measured response. Is some kind of military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran averted for the moment? How present is that danger?

BOWMAN: Well, it appears it is averted for the moment. There's a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on Monday. They'll be discussing, you know, more actions against Iran, maybe more sanctions. But as far as a military action, it seems like it's off the table. But again, we don't know. Last time there was moves against Iran, there was a cyberattack after the Iranians shot down a U.S. drone. You could see something like that. But at this point, it does seem there'd be more talking than actually shooting.

SIMON: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman speaking with us today about deployment of U.S. troops and assets to Saudi Arabia. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.