By Carla Babb and Steve Herman
May 8, 2019
The U.S. military has “recent and clear indications” of an Iranian threat against American forces in the Middle East, defense officials said Tuesday.
“U.S. Central Command has seen recent and clear indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack U.S. forces in the region. This includes threats on land and in the maritime,” U.S. Central Command spokesman Navy Capt. William Urban said.
The United States announced Monday it was speeding up the arrival of a naval aircraft carrier strike group to the Arabian Sea and deploying a bomber task force in response to a potential Iranian threat. Urban said Tuesday B-52 bomber jets were deploying to the region “to protect U.S. forces and interests in the region and to deter any aggression.”
The USS Abraham Lincoln is currently operating in the U.S. European Command area of responsibility (AOR) but will expedite its arrival into the Middle East, a defense official told VOA.
“We have continued to see activity that leads us to believe that there’s escalation that may be taking place, and so we’re taking all the appropriate actions, both from a security perspective as well as our ability to make sure the president has a wide range of options in the event that something should actually take place,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Monday in Finland.
The concerns expressed by Pompeo and U.S. defense officials contrast with the U.S. Central Command’s assessment just over a month ago.
Despite Iran’s “significant capability” in Syria and the region, Central Command officials said there were no indications Tehran was aiming to set its sights on U.S. forces.
“Iran’s priority is to defeat ISIS, which it sees as an existential threat,” the Defense Department’s Lead Inspector General for Operation Inherent Resolve said, summarizing CENTCOM’s March 26 assessment in a report issued Tuesday.
“They are not displaying the intent to attack U.S. forces,” the report added, warning, “this calculus could change if Iran perceives a U.S. desire to ramp up anti-Iranian activities in a post-ISIS environment.”
‘Threat’ from US
Some former U.S. intelligence and security officials worry, however, that recent rhetoric from the White House combined with its ongoing “maximum pressure” campaign, has done just that.
New America Foundation Fellow Ned Price told VOA an unusual and aggressive Sunday evening statement issued in the name of the U.S. national security adviser John Bolton — in which he warned the U.S. is “fully prepared to respond to any attack” — makes it seem like the U.S. is “intent on driving the Iranians into a corner.”
“The concern with Bolton’s threat — coming in the midst of a series of escalations from the Trump administration — underscores the concern that the administration is trying to goad the Iranians into an unwise and ill-considered reaction,” said Price, a former spokesman for the Obama-era National Security Council.
In addition to the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, the strike group being sent to the Central Command area of operations includes fighter jets, helicopters, destroyers and more than 6,000 sailors when it left its U.S. port in the state of Virginia in early April.
‘Prudent repositioning of assets’
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, on Twitter, stated Monday that the deployment of a naval carrier strike group and an air force bomber task force to the area “represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”
Shanahan added: “We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation. We will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any attack on US forces or our interests.”
The Trump administration has been working to apply what it calls a “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran to try to get the country to change its behavior, including its sponsorship of terror groups and what the White House alleges is a ballistic missile program that threatens the United States.
In response to last month’s U.S. designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group, Iran responded by declaring the United States a state sponsor of terrorism and its forces in the Middle East as terror groups.