US to maintain 35,000 troops in Gulf region: Hagel

US to maintain 35,000 troops in Gulf region: Hagel
US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel (L) greets Saudi Arabia Deputy Minister of Defence Prince Salman bin Sultan before a meeting at the Radisson Hotel in Manama December 6, 2013. Hagel is visiting Bahrain while on a six day trip to the Middle East.

MANAMA - The United States is committed to maintaining a 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 an armada of ships and aircraft in place and "will not make any adjustments to its forces in the region -- or to its military planning-- as a result of the interim agreement with Iran," said Hagel, according to a prepared text of a speech.

In a trip meant 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 released in advance of his speech 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 defence 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.

Some of Iran's most sensitive nuclear sites are believed to be located underground and Washington has publicized the development of weapons capable of striking buried bunkers.

Speaking at an annual security conference in Manama organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Hagel also noted investments in minesweeper ships and a $580 million construction project for the US Fifth Fleet headquarters, the naval command in Bahrain that oversees vessels across the Middle East.

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