On Monday, a high-ranking U.S. defense official expressed the view that there is a potential for a “considerably heightened threat of escalation against U.S. forces and personnel in the immediate future” in the Middle East.
There have been several attacks on US troops in Syria and Iraq in recent days, following the force posture increase ordered by the Pentagon in the aftermath of the Oct.7 Hamas attack on Israel.
The official said there were “Iranian fingerprints all over” the recent uptick in attacks on American troops in the Middle East.
“We are preparing for this escalation, both in terms of defending our forces and being prepared to respond decisively,” the official said in response to a question from Al Arabiya English, asserting that the US will “never hesitate to take action” when needed to protect US troops.
“Any response will come at a time and manner of our choosing,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On the same call, a senior US military official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that there was a “significant threat of escalation throughout the region, and that would include towards US forces.”
Over the weekend, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken both said there was a “likelihood of escalation of violence” by Iranian proxies against US forces in the Middle East.
Following the Hamas attack on Israel, Austin deployed two US aircraft carrier strike groups to the Eastern Mediterranean and ordered the augmentation of fighter jets. And over the weekend, he again increased US force posture in the Middle East by ordering the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group closer to Israel, deploying a THAAD battery and additional Patriot battalions to the region, and placed more US troops on prepare-to-deploy orders.
The senior US military official said the THAAD and Patriot battalions would be in the US Central Command Area of Responsibility (AOR) “throughout the theater” but refused to say exactly which countries.