After the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the Trump administration is planning on sending as many as 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East, Department of Defense officials made contradictory statements on the Pentagon’s plans.
The Department of Defense Press Secretary Alyssa Farah tweeted Wednesday that the reporting is wrong. “The U.S. is not considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East,” she wrote.
On Thursday, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, John Rood, the Pentagon’s senior policy official, contradicted Farah when he said the Pentagon is considering sending additional troops to CENTCOM. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri noted the confusion over Farah’s statement and he asked Rood directly, “Are you considering it or not?”
“The direct answer I’d give you, Senator, is that we’re always considering and in fact based on the threat situation in the Middle East are watching that and as necessary the Secretary of Defense has told me he intends to make changes to our force posture there,” Rood said, refusing to give a direct answer. “With respect to that statement by the spokesperson, we have not made a decision to deploy 14,000 troops.”
Rood said that he did not agree that his statements directly contradicted the spokesperson because “her statement was we’re not considering 14,000 troops.” Rood said there is a “dynamic security situation” in the Middle East that requires the Pentagon to “regularly evaluate the appropriate number” of troops.
Here’s more of the exchange, in which Rood dodges Hawley’s question by saying there is no specific 14,000 number named in current Pentagon plans to deploy troops.
ROOD: I do want to say Senator, I wouldn’t agree with your characterization that I have directly contradicted the [Pentagon] spokesperson.
HAWLEY: Well how can that be the case when she says the United States is not considering sending additional troops to the Middle East and you just said that you are.
ROOD: Um. I believe her statement was we’re not considering 14,000 troops.
HAWLEY: Right. So, wait, I’m sorry, what’s your testimony then? Your testimony’s different from that, because you just told Senator Blackburn that that is under consideration.
ROOD: For example Senator there isn’t some pending document with the Secretary of Defense that states ‘deploy 14,000 troops. Do you approve: Yes or No?’ I’m not trying to be argumentative, sir. I’m just trying to point out there is a dynamic security situation in the Middle East and that it’s a custom that we do, and we didn’t do it just because of recent of events, where we regularly evaluate the appropriate number of…
After the hearing on Thursday, the press secretary reiterated her assertion that the Department of Defense is, “not considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East at this time.”
SecDef @EsperDoD spoke to Chairman Inhofe this morning and reaffirmed that we are not considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East at this time.
— Alyssa Farah (@PentagonPresSec) December 5, 2019
The press secretary’s reiteration of this precise number of troops means both statements can be true: The Pentagon does not have plans to send 14,000 troops, but they also are constantly evaluating their “force posture.”
Perhaps they do have plans to expand the U.S. military in the Middle East to counter Iran, like the Wall Street Journal reports, “including dozens more ships” and “other military hardware,” but they deny those plans include the exact number 14,000. It could be 13,999, 14,001, zero, or any other number. The agency still has not publicly come clean about its plans to send more troops to foreign conflicts under a president whose stated foreign policy is reducing U.S. military adventurism abroad.
When asked about the specificity of the number 14,000, another spokesperson at the Department of Defense, Lt. Col. Tom Campbell, said to The Federalist that the Wall Street Journal was wrong and that the Pentagon is “always evaluating.”