Iran and its proxy militias in the Middle East intend to escalate conflict by attacking U.S. troops based in the region, defense and military officials said on Monday.
Since Thursday, U.S. troops based in Iraq and Syria have endured at least 5 drone and rocket attacks, while Iran-backed Iraqi militant groups have claimed several additional attacks. The Pentagon initially said the incidents should be considered independently, but on Monday, senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to give a situational update, said they are part of a concerted effort by Iran to draw the U.S. into conflict.
“What has happened in the last several days is efforts by Iran and Iranian proxy forces in an attempt to escalate this conflict,” a senior defense official said Monday.
“We see a much more significant prospect for conflict in the near term,” the official continued, adding that U.S. forces are prepared for any potential escalation. The U.S. will “hold Iran accountable” for its actions, the official said.
The Pentagon previously declined to attribute the attacks or pin blame directly to Iran.
Iran-backed Islamist groups in Iraq had threatened to target American forces if the U.S. intervened to help Israel in its war against Hamas.
The U.S. doesn’t have evidence that Iran directly ordered the spate of recent attempts to strike bases in Iraq and Syria housing U.S. military personnel, but groups receiving strong backing from Tehran are behind the attacks, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Monday.
National Security Council Chief Spokesperson John Kirby said Monday that Iran is “actively facilitating” the attacks on installations housing U.S. troops, who are stationed in Iraq and Syria to train local partners and work toward defeating the Islamic State (ISIS).
Iran has, at the very least, encouraged the attacks, such as by telling the militias Iran will withhold punishment if they directly target American forces, CNN reported, citing officials familiar with U.S. intelligence.
“I can tell you generally that we know there is a significant threat of escalation throughout the region and that would include toward U.S. forces,” a senior military official told reporters Monday.
Recent actions taken by the Department of Defense (DOD) to augment forces and defense systems in the region will give commanders “options” for responding, the military official said.
After detailed discussions with @POTUS on recent escalations by Iran & its proxy forces across the Middle East, I directed a series of additional steps to further strengthen DoD posture in the region.https://t.co/yTE6JyqsIt
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) October 22, 2023
On Saturday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin directed the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, which was heading to the eastern Mediterranean to boost deterrence vis-à-vis actors seeking to attack Israel, to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Austin also activated multiple patriot batteries and one Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in “locations throughout the region to increase force protection for U.S. forces.”
An unspecified number of forces were given notice to be ready in the event the Pentagon required them to rapidly deploy to the Middle East, the release said.
Austin called Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani on Monday to discuss the safety of U.S. troops.
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