Exclusive: More than 100 U.S. troops diagnosed with brain injuries from Iran attack – officials

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military is preparing to report a more than 50% jump in cases of traumatic brain injury stemming from Iran’s missile attack on a base in Iraq last month, U.S. officials told Reuters on Monday.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of an announcement, said there were over 100 cases of TBI, up from the 64 previously reported last month.

The Pentagon declined to comment, but in the past had said to expect an increase in numbers in the weeks after the attack because symptoms can take time to manifest and troops can sometimes take longer to report them.

No U.S. troops were killed or faced immediate bodily injury when Iran fired missiles at the Ain al-Asad base in Iraq in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike at the Baghdad airport on Jan. 3.

The missile attacks capped a spiral of violence that had started in late December. Both sides have refrained from further military escalation, but the mounting number of U.S. casualties could increase pressure on the Trump administration to respond, perhaps non-militarily.

Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last month that the service members suffering from traumatic brain injuries had been diagnosed with mild cases. He added the diagnosis could change as time went on.

Symptoms of concussive injuries include headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light and nausea.

Pentagon officials have repeatedly said there has been no effort to minimize or delay information on concussive injuries. But the disclosures following Tehran’s attack has renewed questions over the U.S. military’s policy regarding how it internally reports suspected brain injuries and whether they are treated publicly with the same urgency as loss of limb or life.

U.S. President Donald Trump appeared to play down the brain injuries last month, saying he “heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things” following the attack, prompting criticism from lawmakers and a U.S. veterans group.

Various health and medical groups for years have been trying to raise awareness about the seriousness of brain injuries, including concussions.

Since 2000, about 408,000 service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, according to Pentagon data.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Franklin Paul, Dan Grebler and Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. says 50 troops now diagnosed with traumatic brain injury after Iran strike

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon said on Tuesday 50 U.S. service members were now diagnosed with traumatic brain injury after missile strikes by Iran on a base in Iraq earlier this month, 16 more than the military had previously announced.

President Donald Trump and other top officials initially said Iran’s Jan. 8 attack had not killed or injured any U.S. service members.

“As of today, 50 U.S. service members have been diagnosed” with traumatic brain injury, Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Campbell said in a statement about injuries in the attack on the Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq.

Symptoms of concussive injuries include headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light and nausea.

Thirty-one of the 50 were treated in Iraq and returned to duty, including 15 of those diagnosed most recently, Campbell said.

Eighteen of the total have been sent to Germany for further evaluation and treatment, and one was sent to Kuwait and has since returned to duty, he said.

“This is a snapshot in time and numbers can change,” Campbell said.

In its previous update on Friday, the Pentagon had put the number of those injured at 34.

Trump last week appeared to play down the injuries, saying he “heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things.”

That prompted criticism from a U.S. war veterans group. William Schmitz, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said on Friday the group “expects an apology from the president to our service men and women for his misguided remarks.”

According to Pentagon data, about 408,000 service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury since 2000.

Iran fired missiles at Ain al-Asad in retaliation for the U.S. killing of a top Revolutionary Guard general, Qassem Soleimani, in a drone strike at Baghdad airport on Jan. 3.

The missile attacks capped a spiral of violence that had started in late December, and both sides have refrained from further military escalation.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

U.S. recovers remains from Afghanistan plane crash, verifying identities: official

By Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Idrees Ali

KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday recovered the remains of individuals from a U.S. military aircraft that crashed in Afghanistan and was in the process of confirming their identities, a U.S. defense official said on Tuesday.

On Monday, the U.S. military said an E-11A aircraft crashed in the province of Ghazni but disputed Taliban claims to have brought it down.

Earlier on Tuesday, Afghan forces and Taliban fighters clashed in a central region where the U.S. military aircraft crashed as the government tried to reach the wreckage site in a Taliban stronghold.

The U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said multiple attempts had been made to recover the remains but had been hampered because of the terrain and weather.

The Pentagon declined to comment.

Security forces were sent to the site immediately after receiving a report of the crash in the Deh Yak district, but were ambushed by Taliban fighters, Ghazni provincial police chief Khalid Wardak told Reuters.

“As per our information, there are four bodies and two onboard were alive and they are missing,” Wardak said, adding that the forces subsequently received an order to retreat and airborne action is to be taken instead.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said Afghan forces backed by U.S. military support had tried to capture the area around the crashed aircraft and clashed with fighters of the Islamist militant group.

The attempt was repelled, however, he told Reuters, but added that the Taliban would allow a rescue team access to recover bodies from the crash site.

“Taliban fighters on the ground counted six bodies at the site of the U.S. airplane crash,” he said, adding that while there could have been more, the militant group could not be certain, as fire had reduced everything to ashes.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials said the plane was carrying fewer than five people when it crashed, with one official saying initial information showed there were at least two.

The crashed aircraft, built by Bombardier Inc, is used to provide communication capabilities in remote locations.

The crash came as the Taliban and United States have been in talks on ending the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

Trump has long called for an end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, which began with an American invasion triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that al Qaeda launched from then-Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

(Additional reporting by Rumpam Jain; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Congress approves massive funding bills to avert government shutdowns

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate, rushing to meet a looming deadline, approved and sent to President Donald Trump a $1.4 trillion package of fiscal 2020 spending bills that would end prospects of government shutdowns at week’s end when temporary funding expires.

By strong bipartisan margins and with White House backing, the Senate passed the two gigantic funding bills for government programs through Sept. 30.

Trump is expected to sign both bills into law before a midnight Friday deadline.

Notably, the Pentagon would get $738 billion for military activities – $22 billion more than last year.

Investments in domestic programs range from child nutrition and college grants to research on gun violence for the first time in decades and money for affordable housing programs that Trump had opposed.

The legislation also contains a series of new initiatives, including funding for Trump’s military Space Force, raising the age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 from the current 18, and repealing some taxes that were intended to fund the Affordable Care Act health insurance, popularly known as Obamacare.

About a year ago, the U.S. government plunged into a record-long, 35-day partial shutdown after Congress refused to give Trump the money he wanted to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall – one that he previously had insisted Mexico would finance.

This time around, money for border security would stay level at $1.37 billion, far below what Trump had sought.

Earlier this year, angered by Congress’ refusal to give him the wall money, Trump declared an “emergency” and took funds from other accounts appropriated by Congress and used them to build part of the border wall that was a central promise of his 2016 presidential campaign.

Congressional and White House negotiators reached a deal on the spending bills to avert government shutdowns just days before Washington plunged into a different kind of political crisis: the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives approving articles of impeachment against Trump, a Republican.

With Democrats and Republicans trying to demonstrate that they can get at least some legislative work done amid Trump’s impeachment, the administration and Democrats also worked out differences over a U.S.-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement, making for a flurry of pre-Christmas break action in Washington.

The $1.4 trillion in spending for so-called “discretionary” programs, up from $1.36 trillion last year, is separate from “mandatory” programs like Social Security retirement benefits, which are automatically funded.

The higher spending, coupled with tax cuts enacted in 2017, are contributing to widening budget deficits. The government spent $984 billion more than it took in during the last fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects annual budget deficits averaging $1.2 trillion over the next decade.

A rapidly-rising U.S. national debt now stands at $23.1 trillion, a level that some experts fear could eventually hobble the economy.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Steve Orlofsky and Dan Grebler)

U.S. mulls leaving some troops in Syria to guard oil: Pentagon

U.S. mulls leaving some troops in Syria to guard oil: Pentagon
By Kawa Omar and Idrees Ali

DOHUK, Iraq/KABUL (Reuters) – The Pentagon is considering keeping some U.S. troops near oilfields in northeastern Syria alongside Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to help deny oil to Islamic State militants, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday.

U.S. troops are crossing into Iraq as part of a broader withdrawal from Syria ordered by President Donald Trump, a decision that allowed Turkey to launch an offensive against the SDF which for years was a U.S. ally battling Islamic State.

More than 100 vehicles crossed the border into Iraq early on Monday from the northeast tip of Syria, where Turkey agreed to pause its offensive for five days under a deal with Washington.

The truce expires late on Tuesday, just after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is set to discuss next steps in the region at a meeting in Russia with President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to Afghanistan, Esper said that, while the U.S. withdrawal was under way, some troops were still with partner forces near oilfields and there had been discussions about keeping some of them there.

He said that was one option and no decision had been made “with regard to numbers or anything like that”. The Pentagon’s job was to look at different options, he added.

“We presently have troops in a couple of cities that (are)located right near that area,” Esper said. “The purpose is to deny access, specifically revenue to ISIS (Islamic State) and any other groups that may want to seek that revenue to enable their own malign activities.”

Trump’s shift has opened a new chapter in Syria’s more than eight-year war and prompted a rush by Turkey and by the Damascus government and its ally Russia to fill the vacuum left by the Americans.

Trump’s decision has been criticized in Washington and elsewhere as a betrayal of Kurdish allies who had fought for years alongside U.S. troops in a region rich in oil reserves and farmland.

The New York Times reported late on Sunday that Trump was now leaning in favor of a new military plan to keep about 200 U.S. troops in eastern Syria near the Iraq border. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“NECESSARY STEPS”

Turkey is seeking to set up a “safe zone” as a buffer against the YPG militia, the main component of the SDF. Ankara sees the YPG as a terrorist group due to its links to Kurdish insurgents in southeast Turkey.

Erdogan has said Ankara will resume its assault in Syria when the deadline expires on Tuesday if the SDF has not pulled back from its proposed zone, which spans much of the border.

“We will take up this process with Mr Putin and after that we will take the necessary steps” in northeastern Syria, Erdogan told a forum in Istanbul hosted by broadcaster TRT World on Monday, without elaborating.

Erdogan has also said Turkey will set up a dozen observation posts in the “safe zone”, prompting criticism from Iran.

“We are against Ankara’s establishing of military posts in Syria,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told a weekly news conference on Monday broadcast live on state TV.

“The issues should be resolved by diplomatic means … Syria’s integrity should be respected,” said Mousavi, whose country is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Echoing such concerns, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said Russia believed long-term regional security could only be achieved by restoring Syrian unity and also by taking into account the interests of all the country’s ethnic and religious groups.

He reiterated that Putin and Erdogan would discuss Turkey’s military offensive in their talks on Tuesday in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying that 12 Syrian prisons holding foreign militants as well as eight refugee camps had been left unguarded as a result of Turkey’s military operation.

Turkey’s nearly two-week old offensive has displaced some 300,000 people and led to 120 casualties among civilians and 470 among SDF fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday. Turkey says 765 terrorists but no civilians have been killed in its offensive.

On Monday, Reuters video images showed armored vehicles carrying U.S. troops through the Sahela border crossing into Iraq’s northern province of Dohuk.

About 30 trailers and Hummers carrying heavier duty equipment crossed, with troops in cars coming through, an Iraqi Kurdish security source said.

Turkish security sources said on Monday Kurdish YPG forces were advancing toward Al Hasakah, which is south of the proposed safe zone, adding some 125 vehicles had already left. They also said more than 80 Kurdish militants had been captured alive or surrendered to Turkish forces.

(Additional reporting by Idrees tktk Can Sezer and Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul, Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Anton Kolodyazhnyy in Moscow; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Exclusive: U.S. carried out secret cyber strike on Iran in wake of Saudi oil attack: officials

Exclusive: U.S. carried out secret cyber strike on Iran in wake of Saudi oil attack: officials
By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States carried out a secret cyber operation against Iran in the wake of the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which Washington and Riyadh blame on Tehran, two U.S. officials have told Reuters.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the operation took place in late September and took aim at Tehran’s ability to spread “propaganda.”

One of the officials said the strike affected physical hardware, but did not provide further details.

The attack highlights how President Donald Trump’s administration has been trying to counter what it sees as Iranian aggression without spiraling into a broader conflict.

Asked about Reuters reporting on Wednesday, Iran’s Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said: “They must have dreamt it,” Fars news agency reported.

The U.S. strike appears more limited than other such operations against Iran this year after the downing of an American drone in June and an alleged attack by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on oil tankers in the Gulf in May.

The United States, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France and Germany have publicly blamed the Sept. 14 attack on Iran, which denied involvement in the strike. The Iran-aligned Houthi militant group in Yemen claimed responsibility.

Publicly, the Pentagon has responded by sending thousands of additional troops and equipment to bolster Saudi defenses – the latest U.S. deployment to the region this year.

The Pentagon declined to comment about the cyber strike.

“As a matter of policy and for operational security, we do not discuss cyberspace operations, intelligence, or planning,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Elissa Smith.

GULF TENSIONS RISE SHARPLY

The impact of the attack, if any, could take months to determine, but cyber strikes are seen as a less-provocative option below the threshold of war.

“You can do damage without killing people or blowing things up; it adds an option to the toolkit that we didn’t have before and our willingness to use it is important,” said James Lewis, a cyber expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Lewis added that it may not be possible to deter Iranian behavior with even conventional military strikes.

Tensions in the Gulf have escalated sharply since May 2018, when Trump withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Tehran that put limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of sanctions.

It was unclear whether there have been other U.S. cyber attacks since the one in late September.

Iran has used such tactics against the United States. This month, a hacking group that appears linked to the Iranian government tried to infiltrate email accounts related Trump’s re-election campaign.

Over 30 days in August and September, the group, which Microsoft dubbed “Phosphorous,” made more than 2,700 attempts to identify consumer accounts, then attacked 241 of them.

Tehran is also thought to be a major player in spreading disinformation.

Last year a Reuters investigation found more than 70 websites that push Iranian propaganda to 15 countries, in an operation that cybersecurity experts, social media firms and journalists are only starting to uncover.

Tensions with Iran have been high since the Sept. 14 attack. Tehran has said an Iranian tanker was hit by rockets in the Red Sea last week and warned that there would be consequences.

On Monday, President Hassan Rouhani reiterated his country’s policy toward the Trump administration, ruling out bilateral talks unless Washington returns to the landmark nuclear deal and lifts crippling U.S. economic sanctions.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Jack Stubbs in London Editing by Gerry Doyle, William Maclean)

U.S. concerned about some Hong Kong protest tactics, heavier China hand: Pentagon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The senior U.S. defense official for Asia said on Tuesday that the United States has some concerns about some of the tactics used by demonstrators in Hong Kong but was also concerned about the heavier hand Beijing and Hong Kong authorities have used against protests in the territory.

Randall Schriver, the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, said the United States was “100 percent” behind those in Hong Kong who were speaking out for respect for fundamental rights guaranteed in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.

“Certainly we have some concern about some of the tactics that the protesters have been using and may use, and I think in single instances where that becomes a real problem we would point that out,” he told a conference organized by the Jamestown Foundation, a Washington-based research institute.

“But I think in general, we are concerned about the heavier hand that Beijing has taken and the Hong Kong authorities have taken with what we regard as legitimate activities on the part of the people of Hong Kong,” Schriver added.

He said the Hong Kong police and authorities had historically acted to uphold the law and the territory had a very good judicial system.

“What we are concerned about is the heavier hand from Beijing and how that can be distorted and turned into something more repressive,” Schriver said

“The general trend is concerning, that we’re seeing less autonomy, more influence from Beijing, heavier hand from the authorities there, and in general an erosion of the things that were promised the people of Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong has been rocked by four months of unrest, with massive marches and at times violent protests involving tear gas, petrol bombs and live rounds, over concerns Beijing is tightening its grip on the city and eroding democratic rights.

Earlier on Tuesday, embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam ruled out making any concessions to pro-democracy protesters in the face of escalating violence, which police said was now “life threatening,” citing the detonation of a small bomb.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Russia, China accuse U.S. of stoking tensions with missile test

FILE PHOTO: National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

By Tom Balmforth and Maria Kiselyova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and China accused the United States on Tuesday of stoking military tensions by testing a ground-launched cruise missile, but the foreign ministry in Moscow said it would not be drawn into an arms race.

The Pentagon said on Monday it had tested a conventionally-configured cruise missile that hit its target after more than 500 km (310 miles) of flight, its first such test since the demise of a landmark nuclear pact this month.

The United States formally withdrew from the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia on Aug. 2 after accusing Moscow of violating it, a charge dismissed by the Kremlin.

The text would have been banned under the INF, which prohibited land-based missiles with a range of between 310 and 3,400 miles, reducing the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

Washington had “obviously taken the course of escalating military tensions,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said

Russia would, however, not allow itself “to be pulled into a costly arms race” and did not plan to deploy new missiles unless the United States did so first, he was quoted as saying by TASS news agency.

The Kremlin said the U.S. missile test showed that Washington had long been preparing to exit the nuclear pact.

“It is simply not possible to prepare for such tests in a few weeks or a few months. This …shows that it was not Russia, but the United States with its actions that brought the breakdown of the INF,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

China also expressed concern.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the test showed the United States was stoking a new arms race and confrontation, which would have a serious negative impact on regional and global security.

“We advise the U.S. side to abandon outdated notions of Cold War thinking and zero-sum games, and exercise restraint in developing arms,” Geng told a daily news briefing.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Heavens and John Stonestreet)

U.S. to stop training Turkish F-35 pilots because of Russia deal: sources

FILE PHOTO: A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt/File Photo

By Phil Stewart and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The United States has decided to stop accepting any more Turkish pilots who had planned to train in the United States on F-35 fighter jets, three U.S. officials said, in a sign of an escalating dispute over Ankara’s plans to purchase Russian air defenses. The two NATO allies have sparred publicly for months over Turkey’s order for Russia’s S-400 air defense system, which Washington says poses a threat to the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealthy fighters, which Turkey also plans to buy.

The United States says Turkey cannot have both, but had avoided taking steps to curtail or halt planned training of Turkish pilots in the program, a reprisal that could be seen as an embarrassment in Turkey.

The three U.S. officials, who spoke to Reuters this week on condition of anonymity, left open the possibility the decision could be reversed, perhaps if Turkey altered its plans. They said the decision so far only applied to upcoming rounds of Turkish pilots and maintenance crews who would have normally trained in the United States.

Reuters was first to report the U.S. decision on pilots, which traders said pressured the Turkish lira on Friday.

A spokesman for Turkey’s Defense Ministry declined comment on Friday.

The Pentagon declined comment on whether it would accept new Turkish pilots. But it has stressed discussions are taking place with Ankara on potentially selling Turkey Patriot missile defenses, which are made by Raytheon Co.

The United States also has threatened to halt training of Turkish pilots and maintenance crews already in the United States, two of the officials said. Reuters reported last week that the step was being seriously considered.

One official said the pilots in the United States could be removed by the end of July.

Four Turkish pilots are currently training at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Two additional Turkish pilots are there working as instructors. Beyond those six Turkish officers, there are an additional 20 Turkish aircraft maintainers at the base undergoing training as well, the U.S. military says.

Turkey has expressed an interest in buying 100 of the fighters, which would have a total value of $9 billion at current prices.

STRAINED RELATIONSHIP

If Turkey were removed from the F-35 program, it would be one of the most significant ruptures in recent history in the relationship between the two allies, experts said.

Strains in their ties already extend beyond the F-35 to include conflicting strategy in Syria, Iran sanctions and the detention of U.S. consular staff in Turkey.

The disclosure of the decision on the pilots follows signs that Turkey is moving ahead with the S-400 purchase. Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on May 22 that Turkish military personnel were receiving training in Russia to use the S-400, and that Russian personnel may go to Turkey.

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday it was “out of the question” for Turkey to back away from its deal with Moscow.

Erdogan said the United States had not “given us an offer as good as the S-400s.”

The Turkish lira declined as much as 1.5% on Friday before recovering some losses. The currency has shed nearly 10% of its value against the dollar this year in part on fraying diplomatic ties and the risk of U.S. sanctions if Turkey accepts delivery of the S-400s.

Kathryn Wheelbarger, one of the Pentagon’s most senior policy officials, said last week that Turkey’s completion of the transaction with Russia would be “devastating,” dealing heavy blows to the F-35 program and to Turkish interoperability within the NATO alliance.

“The S-400 is a Russian system designed to shoot down an aircraft like the F-35,” said Wheelbarger, an acting assistant secretary of defense. “And it is inconceivable to imagine Russia not taking advantage of that (intelligence) collection opportunity.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Dominic Evans, Mike Stone and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Mary Milliken, Peter Cooney and Howard Goller)

Pentagon mulling military request to send 5,000 troops to Middle East: officials

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge sail in the Arabian Sea May 17, 2019. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian M. Wilbur/Handout via REUTERS.

By Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Defense is considering a U.S. military request to send about 5,000 additional troops to the Middle East amid increasing tensions with Iran, two U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Tehran and Washington have this month been escalating rhetoric against each other, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up the U.S. military presence in the Gulf in response to what he said were Iranian threats.

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the request had been made by U.S. Central Command, but added that it was not clear whether the Pentagon would approve the request.

The Pentagon regularly receives – and declines – requests for additional resources from U.S. combatant commands throughout the world.

One of the officials said the requested troops would be defensive in nature.

It is unclear if any specific request will ultimately be presented to the White House. The request for 5,000 additional troops was first reported by Reuters.

This appeared to be the latest request for additional resources in the face of what U.S. officials have said are credible threats from Iran against U.S. forces and American interests in the Middle East.

The United States has not publicly shown any evidence of what the specific intelligence on the Iranian threat is.

The Pentagon declined to comment.

“As a matter of longstanding policy, we are not going to discuss or speculate on potential future plans and requests for forces,” Commander Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said on Wednesday.

Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday that while threats from Iran in the Middle East remained high, deterrence measures taken by the Pentagon had “put on hold” the potential for attacks on Americans.

The U.S. military accelerated the deployment of a carrier strike group to the Middle East, and sent bombers and Patriot missiles to the region earlier this month in response to what Washington said were troubling indications of possible preparations for an attack by Iran.

U.S. government sources told Reuters last week they believe Iran encouraged Houthi militants or Iraq-based Shi’ite militias to carry out attacks on tanker ships off the United Arab Emirates.

Trump has warned that Iran would be met with “great force” if it attacked U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that Iran’s youth will witness the demise of Israel and American civilization.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; editing by Rosalba O’Brien and G Crosse)