WASHINGTON (Reuters) - US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper announced on Friday evening that US military reinforcements were sent to the Gulf region at the request of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, after the attacks on two facilities belonging to the Saudi oil company (Aramco) in the east of the country.

He said the attacks, which took place last Saturday, "constitute a major escalation of the Iranian aggression," adding that "to prevent further escalation, Saudi Arabia has asked for international assistance to protect the vital infrastructure of the Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates also asked for help."

In response to those requests, he said, "the president agreed to deploy US forces that would be defensive in nature and focused primarily on the air force and missile defense."

The number of troops and the type of equipment to be sent has not yet been determined, but Army Chief of Staff Gen. Joe Danford told a Pentagon news conference that the troops to be sent as part of the reinforcements "will not be in the thousands."

The United States accuses Iran of being behind the attacks on Aramco, which have shut down more than half of Saudi Arabia's oil production.

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Tougher penalties
On Friday, Trump decided to tighten sanctions on Iran to become "the toughest sanctions ever" against a state, while defending what he called "military restraint" that Washington has shown following the attacks on Saudi Arabia.

"We have just imposed sanctions on the National Bank of Iran," Trump said in an Oval Office statement.

In turn, US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin explained that it is about targeting "the last source of income of the Central Bank of Iran and the National Fund for Development, that is, their sovereign fund that will cut off our banking system."

"This means that there will be no money going to the Revolutionary Guards to finance terrorism."

The governor of the Central Bank of Iran that the new sanctions imposed by the United States on the bank on Friday show "lack of trick" Washington, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

Iran's central bank and most of Iran's financial institutions have been under US sanctions since November 2018 after Washington withdrew from the international agreement on Iran's nuclear program.