Top US commander: Iran threat remains 'imminent'

Top US commander: Iran threat remains 'imminent'
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The top commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East said Thursday the threat from Iran remains “imminent,” even as he said U.S. deployments to the region caused Iran to “step back and recalculate.”

"It is my assessment that this has caused the Iranians to back up a little bit, but I'm not sure they are strategically backing down," U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie told reporters in Baghdad, according to The Associated Press.

Still, in an interview with NBC News, McKenzie also said that, "I think the threat is imminent.”

Last month, the U.S. military deployed a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the Middle East in response to what the Trump administration described as “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”

The Pentagon later also said it was sending 900 new U.S. troops to the region and extending the deployment of 600 others as force protection.

The administration has not specified the nature of the threat from Iran, but reports have indicated at least part of the concern was Iran moving missiles around the Gulf. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford also said the threat was “qualitatively” different than previous ones because it was “more of a campaign.”

Critics of President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE have accused the administration of ratcheting up tensions in the region and heightening the threat of war. Lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have also accused the administration of overhyping the threat and mischaracterizing the intelligence in echoes of the lead up to the Iraq War.

In the interviews from Baghdad, McKenzie, who first made the request for more forces, said the intelligence on Iranian threats in early May was "compelling" and that the threats were "advanced, imminent and very specific,” according to the AP.

He did not rule out requesting additional U.S. forces be sent to the region, according to the AP.

"I don't actually believe the threat has diminished," McKenzie said. "I believe the threat is very real."

He also said he has repositioned surveillance aircraft to monitor the situation in the Gulf and introduced more aerial patrols by land- and carrier-based fighter jets, according to the AP.

"Cumulatively, all of these have caused them to sort of step back and recalculate the course that they apparently were on," he said.