US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right) embraces his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, at a meeting earlier this month in Tel Aviv. © Ariel Hermoni (GPO) / Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images
The US defense chief has vowed to respond to attacks by Tehran and its allies US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right) embraces his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, at a meeting earlier this month in Tel Aviv. © Ariel Hermoni (GPO) / Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has warned that American forces in the Middle East face increased risk of being attacked as Iran and its allies in the region look to exploit the turmoil created by the Israel-Hamas war.
Bases housing US troops in Iraq and Syria have already been targeted in rocket and drone attacks in recent days, and the Pentagon is concerned about further escalation of the Israel crisis, Austin said on Sunday in an ABC News interview. “In fact, what we’re seeing is the prospect of a significant escalation of attacks on our troops and our people throughout the region, and because of that, we’re going to do what’s necessary to make sure that our troops are in a good position, they’re protected, and that we have the ability to respond.”
Shortly after Hamas launched surprise attacks against Israel on October 7, the Pentagon dispatched two aircraft carriers, five guided missile destroyers and other ships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea. One of the strike groups, led by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier, was redirected to the Persian Gulf on Saturday, and the Pentagon said it activated additional missile batteries in several undisclosed locations to help protect US forces in the region.
“This additional deployment sends another message to those who would seek to widen this conflict,” Austin said. He added, “If any group or any country is looking to widen this conflict and take advantage of this very unfortunate situation that we see, our advice is: don’t. We maintain the right to defend ourselves, and we won’t hesitate to take the appropriate action.”
The USS Carney destroyer, located in the Red Sea, shot down three missiles and several drones that were launched from the region of Yemen controlled by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels on Thursday. The missiles were traveling north, potentially toward targets in Israel, a Pentagon spokesman said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Austin’s concerns, saying Washington expects additional attacks on American troops by Iranian-backed groups. “We are taking steps to make sure that we can effectively defend our people and respond decisively if we need to,” he said on Sunday in an NBC News interview. “This is not what we want, not what we’re looking for. We don’t want escalation. We don’t want to see a second or third front develop. We don’t want to see our forces or our personnel come under fire, but if that happens, we’re ready for it.”
The US State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency government staffers and their families from Iraq on Sunday. The department issued a similar order for its embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil on Friday, citing increased security threats. The department’s updated travel advisory warned Americans against going to Iraq, citing security risks and the limited capacity of US diplomatic installations in the country to provide support to US citizens. (RT)
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