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(Reuters) - The Pentagon said on Friday that Iran's "destabilizing behavior" was a factor in its planning in the Middle East but sought to discourage speculation the U.S. military was quietly building up forces in the region to counter any perceived threat.
The number of U.S. forces in Kuwait has grown to about 15,000 in recent weeks, including two combat brigades, as troops have withdrawn from Iraq following the end of the war there.
The U.S. force there has expanded temporarily because a brigade deployed to Iraq at the end of the war had been shifted to Kuwait to finish its deployment, he said. Force numbers in any given location shift regularly depending on needs, Kirby said.'
The Pentagon has quietly shifted combat troops and warships to the Middle East after the top American commander in the region warned that he needed additional forces to deal with Iran and other potential threats, U.S. officials said.
Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who heads U.S. Central Command, won White House approval for the deployments late last year after talks with the government in Baghdad broke down over keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, but the extent of the Pentagon moves is only now becoming clear.
The latest deployment, which was ushered in without much presentation to the public, adds a huge number of troops aligned with America’s arsenal that are now surrounding Iran on literally every front. In late 2011, the US equipped neighboring United Arab Emirates with advanced weaponry created to disrupt underground nuclear operations. In adjacent Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, American military presence has long been all but enormous.
About 15,000 U.S. soldiers who are currently deployed to Kuwait will remain in the country for the time being, according to to Army officials quoted in an Army Times report Saturday.
The exact number of troops and their makeup are details that are still being negotiated by the U.S. and Kuwaiti authorities.
Two months ago, the Kuwaiti defense minister was quoted as saying U.S. forces would only use his nation as a staging point. Now it appears that is likely to change, with the United States maintaining a force capable of responding to various contingencies should the need arise.
As of last week, the U.S. contingent consisted of soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, and the 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard, among others. Both belong to the 1st Brigade Combat Team. Also in the mix is the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade of the Maryland National Guard.
A spokeswoman for the brigade was quoted in the Army Times story as saying the combat team would serve as a response force for U.S. Central Command.
Iran's "destabilizing behavior"