23:34 GMT21 June 2021
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    Earlier, US Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie claimed an Iranian attack on US forces could still be 'imminent', and requested that additional troops be brought to the region to complement the carrier group, strategic bombers, additional troops, Patriot missiles and amphibious landing equipment already recently deployed there.

    The Trump administration made the decision to 'Ok' a major beefing up of the US' military presence in the Middle East after the attacks on four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates last month, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs Kathryn Wheelbarger has apparently suggested.

    "What we saw was more akin to a campaign against us than typical Iranian malign behaviour," Wheelbarger said, speaking at an event hosted by the Al-Monitor online newspaper on Tuesday.

    "When we had evidence that the maritime threat had been operationalised, we became concerned that the other threats would be operationalised, specifically against our forces in the region," the official added.

    Wheelbarger and Al-Monitor did not clarify how the US could have made the decision to deploy the carrier group and additional troops and equipment to the Middle East after the alleged sabotage attack on the oil tankers off the UAE coast, which took place on May 12, given that Washington announced that it would be sending the USS Abraham Lincoln and several escort ships to the region on May 5.

    According to Wheelbarger, the bump in US forces had caused "maybe an operational pause" to Iran's plans. She did not say how long the additional US forces would remain in the region, but noted that US military might was designed to force Iran's leadership to "see [that] their only option is to come to the negotiating table."

    In addition to the carrier group, the US has sent a complement of B-52 strategic bombers, Patriot air defence batteries, fighter jets, and an amphibious landing ship to the region. In late May, the Pentagon announced that it would also be sending 1,500 more troops to the region. Last week, the Lincoln's commanding officer told reporters that the vessel was staying out of the Strait of Hormuz to avoid "inadvertently escalat[ing] something."

    Earlier, US Fifth Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Jim Malloy boasted that the ship was not restricted from operating "anywhere in the Middle East," and that he would sail the Lincoln through the strategic Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf if necessary.

    Iran has repeatedly advised the US against escalating the situation in the region, and warned that it would strike a devastating retaliatory blow to US troops and ships if it was attacked.

    Tensions between the Washington and Tehran escalated further on 2 May, after the US scrapped sanctions waivers for over half a dozen major buyers of Iranian oil. The same week, National Security Adviser John Bolton announced that the US would be beefing up its military presence in the Middle East to send a "clear and unmistakable message" to Tehran that "any attack on United States interests or those of our allies" would "be met with unrelenting force."

    The US has since accused Iran of being behind the "sabotage" attacks on the tankers off the UAE. Iran has denied any involvement, calling for an impartial investigation into the event and cautioning against "any conspiracy orchestrated by ill-wishers" which might undermine regional security.


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