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US keeps 35,000 troops in gulf

Manama – The US military is committed to maintaining its 35,000-strong force in the Gulf region regardless of a nuclear deal with Iran, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Saturday in Bahrain.

The United States has ”more than 35,000 military personnel” in and around the Gulf and ”will not make any adjustments to its forces in the region” as a result of the interim accord with Iran, said Hagel, according to a prepared text of a speech.

In a trip designed to reassure Gulf Arab allies worried about America’s diplomatic opening with Iran, Hagel enumerated a list of US weaponry and resources that will remain deployed in the region.”We have a ground, air, and naval presence of more than 35,000 military personnel in and immediately around the Gulf,” he said, according to the text of the speech he planned to deliver at a security conference in Manama.

The military footprint includes 10,000 US Army troops with tanks and Apache helicopters, roughly 40 ships at sea including an aircraft carrier battle group, missile defense systems, advanced radar,surveillance drones and warplanes that can strike at short notice, he said. ”We have deployed our most advanced fighter aircraft throughout the region, including F-22s, to ensure that we can quickly respond to contingencies,” Hagel said.  ”Coupled with our unique munitions, no target is beyond our reach,” said Hagel, in an apparent reference to ”bunker buster” bombs designed to penetrate deeply buried targets.

Hagel opened the door for the US to sell missile defense and other weapons systems to US-friendly Gulf nations, with an eye toward boosting their abilities to counter Iran’s ballistic missiles, even as global powers ink a nuclear deal with Tehran.

In a speech Saturday to Gulf leaders, Hagel made it clear that the emerging global agreement that would limit Iran’s nuclear program doesn’t mean the security threat from Iran is over.

Instead, he laid out steps to beef up defense cooperation in the Gulf region, while at the same time insisting that America’s military commitment to the Middle East will continue.

“I am under no illusions, like all of you, about the daily threats facing this region, or the current anxieties that I know exist here in the Gulf,” Hagel told a security conference. “These anxieties have emerged as the United States pursues diplomatic openings on some of the region’s most difficult problems and most complex issues, including Iran’s nuclear program and the conflict in Syria.” He said the interim deal is just a first step that has bought time for meaningful negotiations, adding that “all of us are clear-eyed, very clear-eyed about the challenges that remain” to reaching a nuclear solution with Iran.