WASHINGTON, Jan 3 (Reuters) – The United States is sending nearly 3,000 additional troops to the Middle East from the 82nd Airborne Division as a precaution amid rising threats to American forces in the region, the Pentagon said on Friday.
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said additional U.S. deployments were also being weighed, including sending elements of the Europe-based 173rd Airborne Brigade for tasks like embassy protection in Lebanon.
Iran promised vengeance after a U.S. air strike in Baghdad on Friday killed Qassem Soleimani, Tehran’s most prominent military commander and the architect of its growing influence in the Middle East.
The overnight attack, authorized by President Donald Trump, was a dramatic escalation in a “shadow war” in the Middle East between Iran and the United States and its allies, principally Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The Pentagon said the Immediate Response Force (IRF) brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division was being deployed.
“The brigade will deploy to Kuwait as an appropriate and precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, and will assist in reconstituting the reserve,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
The troops will be joining the roughly 750 forces that were sent to Kuwait earlier this week. Usually, a brigade consists of about 3,500 people.
U.S. officials told Reuters earlier this week that thousands of additional troops could be sent to the region and had been told to prepare to deploy.
The United States has already dispatched about 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East since May.
Reuters first reported on Friday that U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper had canceled plans to take personal leave later in January amid rising tension with Iran.
The U.S. air strike followed a sharp increase in U.S.-Iranian hostilities last week when pro-Iranian militiamen attacked the U.S. embassy in Iraq following a U.S. air raid on the Kataib Hezbollah militia.
Iraq’s prime minister said that with Friday’s attack Washington had violated a deal for keeping U.S. troops in his country.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart Editing by Tom Brown and Leslie Adler)