Pentagon disputes general's assertion on threat from Iran-backed militias

Pentagon disputes general's assertion on threat from Iran-backed militias

The Pentagon on Tuesday disputed comments made by a British general who said earlier in the day that he had seen "no increased threat" from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria.

British Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, the deputy commenader of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria, told Pentagon reporters earlier on Tuesday that in terms of militia groups that receive funding from Iran, the coalition has found “no change in their posture since the recent exchange between the United States and Iran, and we hope and expect that that will continue.”

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“There are a range of threats to American and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria,” Ghika said via video stream from Baghdad. “We monitor them all. Iranian-backed forces is clearly one of them and I am not going to go into the detail of it, but there are a substantial number of militia groups in Iraq and Syria and we don't see an increased threat from many of them at this stage.”

However, U.S. Central Command (Centcom) later released a statement refuting this comment.

“Recent comments from [Operation Inherent Resolve's] Deputy Commander run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding Iranian backed forces in the region,” Centcom spokesman Capt. Bill Urban said in a statement to The Hill.

“U.S. Central Command, in coordination with Operation Inherent Resolve, has increased the force posture level for all service members assigned to OIR in Iraq and Syria. As a result, OIR is now at a high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq."

Tensions between the United States and Iran have spiked in recent weeks as the Trump administration has increased sanctions pressure on Tehran and spend up the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group to the region.

The administration also last week deployed B-52s to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar as part of the U.S. response to “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Iran.

In addition, the Pentagon announced Friday it was sending a Patriot missile battery and the USS Arlington amphibious transport dock to the region.

“It's important that Iran understand that an attack on Americans or [U.S.] interests will be met with an appropriate response,” acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Friday.

Asked about the disconnect between his assertion of no increased threats and recent statements from the White House and Pentagon, Ghika said that “we’re on exactly the same page.”

“I don’t think I’m out of step with the White House at all,” he added.

Reports also emerged on Tuesday that Shanahan last week presented the White House with a plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East in the event that Iran escalates tensions, which President Trump quickly denied.

—Updated at 7:05 p.m.