Graham warns of 'aggressive' response to Iran-backed rocket attack that killed US troops

Graham warns of 'aggressive' response to Iran-backed rocket attack that killed US troops
© Greg Nash

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSchumer to GOP: Cancel 'conspiracy hearings' on origins of Russia probe Graham announces hearing on police use of force after George Floyd killing In a new cold war with China, America may need to befriend Russia MORE (R-S.C.) warned Thursday of an “aggressive” response to a rocket strike in Iraq that killed two U.S. service members that officials are blaming on an Iran-backed militia.

“I think the president’s going to be very aggressive,” said Graham, a top GOP defense voice and close ally of President TrumpDonald John TrumpDonald Trump and Joe Biden create different narratives for the election The hollowing out of the CDC Poll: Biden widens lead over Trump to 10 points MORE’s. “At the time of our choosing, we should hit back.”

Asked if he meant retaliation against the militia or Iran itself, Graham said, “the people who actually launched the rockets.”

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“Put Iran on notice that we’re going to hold them accountable in the future for this,” Graham added.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischHillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting Senate panel approves Trump nominee under investigation Hillicon Valley: Trump threatens Michigan, Nevada over mail-in voting | Officials call for broadband expansion during pandemic | Democrats call for investigation into Uber-Grubhub deal MORE (R-Idaho) also warned that “if I was the Iran proxy group, I would not sleep well tonight.”

On Wednesday night, U.S. military officials said 18 Katyusha rockets hit Camp Taji, a base north of Baghdad. The attack killed three — the two Americans and a British service member — and wounded 12. Iraqi forces found a rocket-rigged truck a few miles from Camp Taji, the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq added.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperPentagon orders active-duty police units on ready to deploy to Minneapolis: AP Overnight Defense: Trump extends deployment of National Guard troops to aid with coronavirus response | Pentagon considers reducing quarantine to 10 days | Lawmakers push for removal of Nazi headstones from VA cemeteries No time to be selling arms to the Philippines MORE attributed the attack to Iranian-backed Shia militia groups and said that “all options are on the table” to respond. 

“Let me be clear, the United States will not tolerate attacks against our people, our interests or our allies,” Esper said.

The attack Wednesday had echoes of a similar rocket strike in December that set off an escalatory cycle that brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war.

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In December, U.S. officials blamed the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah for a rocket attack that struck a base near Kirkuk, killing one U.S. contractor and wounding four U.S. service members.

The confrontation culminated with a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, followed by an Iranian missile attack on bases in Iraq that gave more than 100 U.S. troops brain injuries.

Responding to Wednesday’s rocket attack, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeBipartisan Senate panel leaders back fund to deter China The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Major space launch today; Trump feuds with Twitter Justice Department closing stock investigations into Loeffler, Inhofe, Feinstein MORE (R-Okla.) said the United States is “obviously” going to exact “reprisal,” though he wouldn’t specify what form he expects that to take.

U.S. officials have touted the Soleimani strike as having “reestablished deterrence” against Iran.

Democrats, who were skeptical of that argument to begin with, are pointing to Wednesday night’s attack as belying the deterrence line.

“Clearly we didn’t restore deterrence,” Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyMissouri state lawmaker sparks backlash by tweeting 'looters deserve to be shot' The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Khanna says President Trump threatening violence against US citizens; Trump terminating relationship with WHO Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (D-Conn.) said. “That was a lie. The Iranians are still shooting at us.”

Murphy the United States should “start talking to the Iranians” after Wednesday’s attack.

“It is so frightening that this escalatory continues and we have no mechanism to talk to the Iranians,” he said. “If we can’t begin a direct dialogue with the Iranians then there’s no hope of there being any permanent deescalation.”

He added that the Trump administration backed itself into a corner by drawing a red line against Americans being killed.

“If that red line exists, then obviously they would be contemplating retaliatory action,” he said. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. But I also don’t understand what the administration’s policy is if they choose not to respond.”

Last month, the Senate passed a resolution aimed at blocking Trump from taking military action against Iran in response to the Soleimani strike and subsequent spike in tensions. The House passed the measure, sending it to Trump’s desk on Wednesday as news was breaking about the latest rocket attack.

Trump has threatened to veto the measure, and neither chamber of Congress is expected to have the votes to override the veto.

Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care: Trump says US 'terminating' relationship with WHO | Cuomo: NYC on track to start reopening week of June 8 | COVID-19 workplace complaints surge 10 things to know today about coronavirus The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Twitter says Trump violates rules with 'shooting' threat MORE (D-Va.), who sponsored the resolution, said it is within Trump’s authority to protect U.S. troops from Iran-backed militia groups, noting his measure was specifically tailored to military action against the government of Iran.

“This attack yesterday is very troubling,” Kaine said. “The president has the power that he needs to take action against militia groups.”

Kaine also cast doubt on whether this strike would result in the same escalatory cycle as last time, citing internal pressures in Iran such as its massive coronavirus outbreak.

“I’m not expecting it to ramp up because I think the number of other pressures that Iran is under right now is going to have them focused inward,” Kaine said. “But there’s a countertheory that says that’s when authoritarian nations do something to take their attention off their internal woes.”