Trump will send troops to Middle East in response to attack on Saudi Arabia

John Fritze and David Jackson, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Friday the U.S. will send troops to the Middle East in response to an attack last weekend on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, but officials offered few specifics about the scope of that response. 

Blaming Iran for a "significant escalation of violence," Esper said nations in the region requested U.S. assistance. Esper described the mission as "defensive" and officials said it would be a "moderate" deployment and "not thousands" of troops. 

“The president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces, which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense,” Esper told reporters. "The United States does not seek conflict with Iran."

Esper offered few details about how many service members would be deployed. General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Pentagon would provide additional details next week.  

Esper said the requests had been made by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

The Trump administration has been seeking to craft a response to the attack and on Friday had slapped a new round sanctions on Tehran. President Donald Trump has also described his "restraint" in a military response as a measure of strength. 

"I think the strong person’s approach and the thing that does show strength would be showing a little bit of restraint," Trump told reporters hours earlier. 

Trump and his aides had no initial comment.

President Donald Trump

The Pentagon made the announcement as guests arrived at the White House for a state dinner honoring the prime minister of Australia.

It also announced the deployment just hours after Trump held a meeting with national security aides about options with respect to Iran.  

Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump responds to alleged Iranian attack with troops to Middle East