WASHINGTON – The number of U.S. combat troops in Kuwait has risen sharply “based on the need” in the Middle East, the Pentagon conceded Friday, denying the recent influx is aimed squarely at Iran.
Tension between Iran and the United States has ratcheted up in recent weeks, with Iran threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions are imposed on the Iranian oil industry to punish the country for its nuclear program. U.S. officials have said Iran will be stopped if it tries to make good on its threat.
According to a Los Angeles Times report Friday, the U.S. military presence in Kuwait was expanded after Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who heads U.S. Central Command, said he needed additional forces to deal with Iran and other security threats in the region.
There are now about 15,000 troops in the country, a significant increase from the several thousand believed to be stationed there previously. The newly arrived forces include two Army infantry brigades and a helicopter unit, the newspaper reported.
Two aircraft carrier groups have recently been dispatched to the Arabian Sea, with the USS Carl Vinson joining the USS John C. Stennis. The USS Abraham Lincoln also is en route to the area.
The Pentagon, however, has denied the carrier movements are aimed at Iran. A spokesman Friday said the troop buildup in Kuwait wasn’t either.
“I want to disabuse everyone of this notion that there some kind of quiet increase” of troop levels in Kuwait related to “contingency planning aimed at any one country,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby said.