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Pentagon Weighs Sending More Military Assets to Mideast

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WASHINGTON—The Pentagon is considering sending additional antimissile batteries, another squadron of jet fighters and added surveillance capabilities to the Middle East to shore up the military’s regional presence in the wake of the attack last weekend on Saudi Arabia’s petroleum industry, U.S. military officials said.

The measures under consideration also include a commitment to maintaining the presence of a U.S. aircraft carrier and other warships in the Middle East for the foreseeable future, the officials said.

The extra force would be meant to show heightened resolve and to bolster defenses following Saturday’s strikes, and is under consideration as President Trump also is weighing options for a response to the attack, which U.S. officials charge was carried out by Iran.

Military officials at U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, planned a series of meetings Thursday and Friday among midlevel officials and deputies to Marine

Gen. Frank McKenzie,

who leads the command, defense officials said.

Mr. Trump and his top national-security aides are expected to meet again Friday to discuss potential responses, defense and White House officials said.

The meetings among military officials on Thursday and Friday are designed to prepare both for White House discussions and for any subsequent decisions, the officials said.

Mr. Trump has said he wants to avoid a military clash and often stated he would prefer to reduce the U.S. military presence in the Middle East. Secretary of State

Mike Pompeo

on Wednesday called last weekend’s attack an “act of war,” while saying Thursday the administration is interested in a peaceful resolution.

Either way, the deployment of additional U.S. forces to the region appeared to be one likely response to the attack, officials said, even if Mr. Trump opts not to answer it militarily and pursues a remedy through the United Nations, an option officials have said he prefers.

Officials are considering sending additional Patriot antimissile batteries, which can be deployed relatively quickly to defend specific areas, as well as a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system, which can intercept ballistic missiles before impact and cover a much wider area.

Neither system necessarily would have been able to defend against the kind of coordinated cruise-missile and drone attacks used last weekend, but would strengthen the region’s defenses, particularly against ballistic-missile threats.

A squadron of high-end jet fighters, possibly F-22 Raptors also may be included in the new deployment, officials said.

Those jet fighters were to be part of a deployment to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia earlier this summer following the decision to move more hardware into the region after the U.S. identified what it said were potential Iranian threats in the spring.

The fighter squadron was never sent but the Pentagon deployed more than 500 service members and a Patriot missile battery to Prince Sultan Air Base. That was the first deployment of such capabilities to Saudi Arabia since the U.S. moved out after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier and its strike group has been in the region since May, accompanied by a handful of destroyers that could defend against cruise-missile and drone attacks.

Saturday’s attack on a Saudi oil facility could have long-lasting repercussions. Heard on the Street editor Spencer Jakab explains how it could impact the global markets. Photo: Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

When the Lincoln heads toward the Pacific Ocean as scheduled later this year, it will be replaced with the USS Harry S. Truman and its strike group, defense officials said.

At a Pentagon press briefing Thursday, Air Force Col.

Patrick Ryder,

a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to answer a question about additional resources.

Military experts said the combined use of drones and missiles in the attack on the Saudi oil facilities blunted the effectiveness of any air-defense systems that may have been in use. Part of the reason, they said, is that the drones’ slower movement and smaller radar signature, compared with those of swift-moving cruise missiles. are harder for air-defense batteries to discern as threats.

U.S. destroyers accompanying the USS Lincoln are among the best temporary responses to such unconventional attacks, said

Byran Clark,

a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Destroyers have larger radars and interceptor missiles, so could better respond, he said.

“We will often use a ship for a temporary fix for air defense until a more permanent solution can be established,” Mr. Clark said.

But using destroyers is expensive, Mr. Clark warned, and puts the ship in greater danger. A destroyer used to protect Saudi oil facilities would have to be based closer to shore and could be subject to Iranian harassment.

Defense Secretary

Mark Esper,

in consultation with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford, is considering the additional deployment, defense officials said. Mr. Esper said in August that he believed Central Command had the resources it needed.

“I think CENTCOM has what it needs right now to continue deterring Iranian bad behavior, and we’ll adjust that based on how the situation changes in the Gulf,” he told reporters then during a trip to Asia.

The Pentagon’s defense strategy, completed last year, refocuses the American security apparatus on so-called global competitors, Russia and China, and attempts to steer away from the conflicts in the Middle East.

But senior military officials, including Gen. McKenzie, argue for a stronger deterrent against possible Iranian threats and has pushed for more resources.

Under

Jim Mattis,

who was defense secretary from 2017 to the end of 2018, at least four Patriot missile batteries were removed from Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan, and the U.S. Navy’s deployment of an aircraft carrier, a staple in the Persian Gulf for years, was curtailed.

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com and Nancy A. Youssef at nancy.youssef@wsj.com

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