Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Friday attempted to put a damper on recent media reports claiming the Trump administration was ordering the Pentagon to send an additional 14,000 troops to the Middle East, which would seem anathema to the president’s oft-stated goal of reducing U.S. troop presence in the region.
Calling the reports “false,” Esper became the latest Pentagon official to say that an anonymously-source Wall Street Journal report this week was inaccurate.
“As the Department has stated repeatedly, we were never discussing or considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East. Reports of this are flat out wrong,” Esper said in a statement on Friday, in an apparent effort to clarify remarks to Congress made by a military official on Thursday.
“DOD will always stand ready to respond to future actions by our adversaries if and when they arise, but the Pentagon is not considering sending 14,000 troops to CENTCOM. This report is false,” Esper said.
The WSJ claimed that the U.S. was considering sending an additional 14,000 troops to parts of the Middle East. The Pentagon has deployed about 14,000 troops there in the last six months.
Department of Defense spokeswoman Alyssa Farah denied the report immediately after it was published Wednesday, saying, “the reporting is wrong.” She added the United States was not considering deploying 14,000 additional troops.
John Rood, the No. 3 official at the Pentagon, told a congressional committee the next day that the story was “erroneous.”
“We haven’t made a decision to deploy an additional 14,000 troops,” he said.
However, he later told Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) that “we’re always considering changes to our force posture” and that Esper “has told me he intends to make changes to our force posture there.”
President Trump also tweeted that the story was false.
“The story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!” he wrote.
“Do not believe any article or story you read or see that uses ‘anonymous sources’ having to do with trade or any other subject,” the president added.
“Only accept information if it has an actual living name on it. The Fake News Media makes up many ‘sources say’ stories. Do not believe them!”