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Defense Secretary Mark Esper. Photo: Getty Images/Alex Wong

In a press conference Friday evening, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced the Pentagon will deploy U.S. forces to the Middle East in response to last Saturday's attacks against major oil processing and production sites in Saudi Arabia.

Why it matters: Both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Saudis have blamed Iran for the attacks, though officials are still investigating. Iranian officials have warned the U.S. they are prepared to respond to any attack from the U.S. or Saudi Arabia, the Washington Post reports.

"The president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense."
— Mark Esper on Friday

The big picture via the Washington Post: "The decision to send a modest number of military personnel marks the second time in recent months that the United States has boosted its presence in the region in response to Iranian actions."

The state of play: Last weekend's attack triggered the biggest spike in crude prices in several decades. Iran denies involvement in the attacks and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned of "all-out war" if anyone attacks Iran.

  • The Saudi Arabian-led military coalition fighting in Yemen said Monday that Iranian weapons were used to strike major oil plants in Saudi Arabia over the weekend, Reuters reports.
  • Pompeo ramped up his rhetoric enroute to the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah, telling reporters that Iran had committed an "act of war." He again dismissed the claim by Yemen's Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, that they were behind the airstrikes.
  • Earlier on Friday, President Trump told reporters he had issued the "highest sanctions ever imposed on a country" on Iran's central bank.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 15 mins ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to actually deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.

Updated 41 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden calls Fox News reporter a "stupid son of a b---h" on hot mic

President Biden blasted Fox News' Peter Doocy on Monday after the reporter asked if the nation's soaring inflation is a political liability, saying, "what a stupid son of a b----h."

The latest: The president called Doocy Monday evening, the reporter told Fox's Sean Hannity. "He cleared the air and I appreciated it. We had a nice call," Doocy said when asked whether the president apologized, adding: "I don't need anyone to apologize to me."

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February.
  2. Vaccines: The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: New York Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Hochul's mask mandate for public areas — Sarah Palin tests positive for COVID, delaying defamation trial — Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker