Today during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) pressed Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood on reports that the United States is considering sending as many as 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East.
Last night the Pentagon told Senator Hawley the "U.S is not considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East." Today Under Secretary Rood told Senator Hawley that the Pentagon is considering sending additional troops to the Middle East. In response to these contradictory statements, Senator Hawley asked Secretary of Defense Mark Esper for clarification. Senator Hawley also pressed Under Secretary Rood on what “stability” looks like in the Middle East and what our goals are in the region.
A transcript of the exchange can be found below.
HAWLEY: I have to confess that you've confused me in your responses first to the Chairman and then to Senator Blackburn. I think you just said to Senator Blackburn that the Pentagon is considering additional troops to CENTCOM. Now that confuses me because the Pentagon spokesperson said last night in direct to response to me that the Pentagon is not considering sending additional troops to CENTCOM. So let me ask you again, is the Pentagon considering additional troops to CENTCOM?
ROOD: Senator, we're always considering changes to our force posture, not only in CENTCOM, but in other...
HAWLEY: So the Pentagon spokesperson in responding to me last night publicly misspoke, is that what you're saying? Let me just read to you what she said, – she said, "To be clear, the reporting [about the Wall Street Journal report] is wrong. The U.S. is not considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East." But you just told Senator Blackburn that that is under consideration. And that was in direct response to me. So I'd like a direct answer. Are you considering it or not?
ROOD: 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. With respect to that statement by the spokesperson, we have not made a decision to deploy 14,000 troops.
HAWLEY: Well, that wasn't what she said though, she said it's not – so, you're telling me now that she misspoke. I think at this point it would be helpful to hear from the Secretary on this issue. And I'd like to hear from him today on this issue. I assume that he signed off on the official spokesperson’s comments – direct public comments last night to me – which she repeated over and over again, and you've directly contradicted here, this morning, multiple times. So, I think some clarification is in order and I'd like to have it. I'd like to have it in public. Because the Pentagon has now made multiple contradictory public statements. Can we do that? Can we get that done today?
ROOD: I'll talk to the Secretary of Defense about that.
ROOD: I do want to say Senator, I wouldn't agree with your characterization that I have directly contradicted the 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...
HAWLEY: Well, I'm hearing what you're saying, but there is a pretty direct contradiction here. You're telling me, have told me, have told Senator Blackburn, that this is under consideration. The Pentagon spokesperson said last night that it's not. So, I'll let you all circle up, and talk to one another, and then issue a public statement today clarifying this, preferably form the secretary.