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US defense officials divided over potential for Iranian attack on eve of grim anniversary


#Pentagon officials say the military muscle-flexing is meant to warn #Tehran off attacking #American interests or personnel in the days surrounding the #January 3 anniversary of the #Trump administration’s assassination of the powerful #Iranian leader #Gen. #Qasem #Soleimani.

#At the same time, acting #Secretary of #Defense #Christopher #Miller decided #Wednesday against a push to extend the aircraft carrier USS #Nimitz’s deployment to the #Persian #Gulf, sending it out of the region in an explicit de-escalation signal to #Iran, according to a senior defense official.

The conflicting messages could reflect divisions within the #Pentagon, where a second senior defense official tells CNN that the current threat level from #Iran is the most concerning they have seen since #Soleimani’s death. #Officials cite new intelligence that #Iran and allied militias in #Iraq may be plotting attacks against US forces in the #Middle #East. #For example, #Iran has been moving short range ballistic missiles into #Iraq, prompting the US to deploy additional military assets to the region.

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#Yet others in the #Pentagon contend that the threat is being exaggerated, with the first senior defense official — who is directly involved in discussions — telling CNN that there is “not a single piece of corroborating intel” suggesting an attack by #Iran may be imminent.

#President #Donald #Trump has fueled some of the uncertainty, reportedly asking in a mid-November meeting for military options he could use against #Iran. #He then threatened #Iran after a #December 21 attack on the US embassy in #Baghdad that senior US officials, including #Secretary of #State #Mike #Pompeo, attributed to #Iraqi militias affiliated with #Tehran.

“#Our embassy in #Baghdad got hit #Sunday by several rockets,” #Trump tweeted from aboard #Air #Force #One after a #December 23 #White #House meeting on #Iranian threats. “#Three rockets failed to launch. #Guess where they were from: IRAN.”

#Trump then offered “some friendly health advice to #Iran: #If one #American is killed, I will hold #Iran responsible. #Think it over.”

A defense official tells CNN that #Chairman of the #Joint #Chiefs of #Staff #Gen. #Mark #Milley “is paying extremely close attention to the situation. The military doesn’t believe an attack is imminent, but is taking all precautions to ensure they deter #Iran while protecting US forces.”

The B-52 flight was the second time this month the #Pentagon has sent the nuclear-capable bombers to the region. #It follows the #Navy’s rare #December 21 announcement that it had sent a nuclear-powered submarine through the #Persian #Gulf, accompanied by guided-missile cruisers.

US #Central #Command, which oversees military operations in the #Middle #East, said in a statement that #Wednesday’s B-52 flight was meant “to underscore the US military’s commitment to regional security and demonstrate a unique ability to rapidly deploy overwhelming combat power on short notice.”

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#Before #Miller called back the USS #Nimitz, which had been due to leave the #Gulf, CENTCOM #Commander #Gen. #Kenneth #McKenzie had been pushing to extend the warship’s deployment there, in what might have been the longest aircraft carrier deployment in many years, the first senior defense official told CNN.

#This official expressed concern that some within the government are painting the situation with #Iran as more dire than it actually is, and are pre-occupied with the potential for retaliatory attacks by #Iran to mark the anniversary of #Soleimani’s assassination.

#After #Soleimani was killed in #Iraq by an #American drone strike in #January, #Iran responded with a major missile attack on US military bases in the region.

#Now, intelligence gathered by the US is indicating a “possibly imminent attack” by #Iranian-backed militias on US forces in #Iraq, although there is no certainty, a defense official tells CNN.

#Nonetheless the concern is significant enough that additional protective measures for US troops have been taken, this official and a second defense official tell CNN. #Both declined to specify the measures being taken.

#Three US defense officials tell CNN that #Iran has been moving additional weaponry into #Iraq, including short range ballistic missiles, an arsenal that officials believe could be used to strike #American targets.

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The second senior military official said that the US has intelligence indicating that militia groups have been meeting with elements of #Iran’s #Quds #Force, an expeditionary military force that #Soleimani previously led, later adding that the US had evidence of militias planning for complex attacks in #Iraq that would require #Iranian assistance to be successful.

“There has been a number of troubling indications of advanced planning and preparation for attacks in #Iraq that appear aimed at US military and US interests,” one US defense official said.

#Officials stress that there are no plans or any preparations being taken for any offensive action directed at #Iran and efforts to reinforce US troops in the region are about deterring attacks, not about conducting a preemptive strike.



[ source link ]
https://edition.cnn.com/2020/12/30/politics/defense-officials-divided-potential-iran-attack/index.html

#defense #officials #divided #potential ##Iranian #attack #eve #grim #anniversary

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