Top general: Recent Iran threats were different because they were ‘more of a campaign’
The top general in the U.S. military on Wednesday said that he viewed recent threats from Iran that precipitated U.S. deployments to the region as different because they were “more of a campaign” than previous threats.
“What’s not new are threat streams. What was new was a pattern of threat streams that extended from Yemen, so threats emanating from Yemen, threats in the Gulf and threats in Iraq,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said in his most detailed public remarks yet on the threats from Iran.
“We also saw in the intelligence that perhaps there was a question about both the will and capability of the United States to respond. … What I would argue was qualitatively different is we saw something that was more of a campaign than an individual threat,” he added.
“And it was the geographic span and the perception that activity would try to be synchronized in time that caused us to look at that threat differently than 40 years, by the way, of malign activity by the Iranians. So malign activity and threats to our forces by the Iranians were not new, but a more widespread, almost campaign-like perspective for the Iranians was what we were dealing with.”
Dunford was speaking at a wide-ranging discussion at the Brookings Institution on national security challenges facing the United States.
In early May, national security adviser John Bolton announced the U.S. military was deploying a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the Middle East in response to unspecified threats from Iran and Iranian proxy forces. The State Department later withdrew non-emergency personnel from U.S. missions in Iraq.
And on Friday, the Pentagon said it was sending 900 new U.S. troops to the region and extending the deployment of 600 others, for a total of 1,500 troops to counter the alleged Iranian threats.
The Trump administration’s moves have led many U.S. lawmakers to become concerned about the potential for war with Iran, saying the administration has overblown the threat and mischaracterized the intelligence in echoes of the lead-up to the Iraq War.
On Wednesday, Dunford appeared to dismiss those who “question the veracity of the intelligence,” pointing to several incidents the administration has blamed on Iran since the first deployments.
The administration has blamed Iran for attacks on four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, with Bolton telling reporters in the UAE on Wednesday the alleged sabotage was carried out with “naval mines almost certainly from Iran.”
The administration has also blamed Iran for drone strikes on oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia and a rocket attack that landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
In none of the three cases has the administration provided the evidence used to attribute the attacks to Iran, which denies its involvement.
Dunford defended the initial U.S. military deployment to the region as designed to address what he described as a “gap in perception” on Iran’s part.
“We wanted to make sure we addressed three things to mitigate the risk of miscalculation,” he said. “One, we wanted to Iranians to know that if they did anything it would be attributable to them. No. 2, we wanted them to know that we had the capability to respond in the event that deterrence fails, and that was the force elements that we sent in on the weekend of the 3rd to the 5th of May. And the last was to make sure those force elements then were a manifestation of our will to respond.”
The deployments announced last week, he added, were the result of an ongoing discussion with the top commander in the region, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, about how best to protect U.S. forces in the Middle East.
“If you look at the specific capabilities that we flowed to the region, those were designed to enhance our force protection,” Dunford said. “And they were accompanied by a message that this was not intended to be provocation. This is not intended to reinforce our offensive capability in the region. This is designed to protect our people, much like the previous force elements we sent in were designed to enhance our deterrence.”
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