The United States has seen signs that Iran or its proxy forces could be planning additional attacks on U.S. interests, Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to update Americans on omicron; Congress back Former defense secretary Esper sues Pentagon in memoir dispute Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Boeing — Major Russia weapons test stokes tensions MORE said Thursday, adding that the U.S. is prepared to take preemptive action against such attacks.
“There are some indications out there that they may be planning additional attacks, that is nothing new ... we’ve seen this for two or three months now,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon, according to Reuters.
“If that happens, then we will act, and by the way, if we get word of attacks or some type indication, we will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces, to protect American lives,” he added.
Esper’s comments come after supporters of an Iran-backed militia on Tuesday stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, breaching the perimeter and setting small fires to the property. The protesters withdrew Wednesday after U.S. security forces fired tear gas into the crowd.
President TrumpDonald TrumpHillicon Valley — State Dept. employees targets of spyware Ohio Republican Party meeting ends abruptly over anti-DeWine protesters Jan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth MORE has accused Iran of orchestrating the assault on the embassy.
The U.S. military sent about 100 Marines to the embassy as reinforcements. Additionally, about 750 soldiers from the Immediate Response Force of the 82nd Airborne Division were deployed to the Middle East, with Esper saying Tuesday night that more were prepared to be deployed in the coming days.
The embassy violence came after the U.S. military on Sunday struck an Iran-backed militia called Kataib Hezbollah, killing at least 25 fighters. The United States blamed the militia for a Friday rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that killed a U.S. contractor and injured four U.S. troops.
U.S. officials have blamed Iranian-backed forces for 11 attacks on military bases in Iraq in the last two months.
Referencing those recent attacks, Esper said Thursday that “the game has changed," according to The Associated Press.
“We’re prepared to do what is necessary to defend our personnel and our interests and our partners in the region,” he said.
Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who was speaking alongside Esper, said Thursday the militia’s Friday rocket attack at the base in Kirkuk was designed to kill.
“Thirty-one rockets aren’t designed as a warning shot; that is designed to inflict damage and kill,” Milley said.
Milley also said that anyone who tries to overrun the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad will now run into a “buzzsaw.”