The amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington transits the Mediterranean Sea on Feb. 1, 2019, as part of a seven-month deployment in Europe and the Middle East.

The amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington transits the Mediterranean Sea on Feb. 1, 2019, as part of a seven-month deployment in Europe and the Middle East. (Brandon Parker/U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon will deploy a Patriot missile battery and an amphibious transport dock warship to the Middle East as part of the Defense Department’s operations aimed at deterring increasing Iranian aggression, defense officials said Friday.

Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan ordered the new deployments Friday, just days after he approved the expedited deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group and a task force of B-52 bombers into the Middle East, the Pentagon said. The deployment announced Friday was part of the same request for forces from U.S. Central Command as the previously announced deployments, the Pentagon said.

“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are postured and ready to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region,” the statement read.

A senior military official said Friday that the United States had not seen any increase in the threat level against U.S. forces in the region in recent days since the announcement of the initial deployment, but threat levels remained elevated. The threat is to U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Syria – primarily emanating from Iranian-controlled Shia militias – and on the seas in the Persian Gulf region, where U.S. officials have observed Iranian-controlled vessels transporting military hardware including missiles, according to the official.

The senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter, described the threats as “real and credible,” but declined to provide additional details, saying they are classified.

Last year, the Pentagon removed Patriot batteries from the region, when it pulled four of its batteries out of the Middle East to focus primarily on potential threats from Russia or China. Defense officials declined to say where that battery would be deployed or when it would arrive in the region, citing operational security concerns. Patriot missile systems are defensive, surface-to-air missile launchers designed to shoot down short-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and aircraft.

The amphibious transport dock, the USS Arlington, will replace the smaller, older USS Fort McHenry landing dock ship that is now deployed in the Middle East with the Kearsarge Amphibious Readiness Group, the official said. The Arlington, which is in the U.S. European Command area of operations, provides military officials with better command and control and more defensive options than the Fort McHenry, the military official said.

The USS Arlington will deploy with an unspecified number of Marines aboard, the official said. It also carries Marine helicopters, amphibious vehicles, and conventional landing craft that could be used in an amphibious assault.

The Arlington had been tasked to support upcoming training with international partner nations in the Baltics, and the Fort McHenry will replace it for those operations, the official said.

The movements follow the announcement out of the White House on Sunday that the Pentagon would deploy the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group into the Middle East alongside an bomber task force, in a warning to the Iranians that any attack would be met with a military response.

The Lincoln arrived in the Red Sea on Thursday after skipping a planned port call in Croatia, the Navy said. Much of the bomber task force from the Air Force’s 20th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana arrived at Al Udaid Air Base in Qatar on Friday, the Air Force announced. Other B-52s landed at an undisclosed location Wednesday in “southwest Asia.”

The heightened tensions have come in the weeks after the United States designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps an international terrorist organization, the first time it has designated a state-controlled military arm as such.

Iran’s leadership in recent days has made its own threats, saying it might scrap some of its commitments under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the Iran nuclear deal, which could pave the way toward Iran renewing nuclear weapons programs.

The United States left that agreement about one year ago, but European Union countries have remained committed to it. Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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