WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Friday that he would deploy about 1,500 additional American troops to the Middle East, “a relatively small number” to provide protection for American service members already there.
“We want to have protection,” Mr. Trump said to reporters as he left the White House to travel to Japan for a state visit. “We’ll see what happens.”
Shortly after, the acting defense secretary, Patrick Shanahan, described the move as “a prudent response to credible threats from Iran.”
The troops will be largely engineering and defensive, officials said. The president reached his decision after a Thursday meeting at the White House with top national security aides, and concluded that a small increase would be sufficient to address any additional security threats in the region from Iran or its proxy forces.
The small number of troops — compared with at least 20,000 that have been under consideration — may alleviate some of the concerns from Capitol Hill. Skeptical lawmakers, most of them Democrats, this week challenged administration officials about whether the latest tensions with Iran have been caused by Tehran or Washington.
And Mr. Trump himself has been in favor of shrinking the American military presence in the region, especially in Syria.
Before Thursday’s meeting at the White House, officials said, the Pentagon planned to present an option for deploying up to 20,000 troops to the region. But some Defense Department officials viewed such a move as running counter to protecting American troops already there, as it could give American adversaries in the region even more of a target.
The Defense Department notified Congress of the new deployment on Friday.