After a week of escalating drone attacks on U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq, the Pentagon said Monday that more U.S. service members are getting ‘prepare to deploy’ orders that could send them to the Middle East.
Separately, the U.S. is sending Patriot and THAAD batteries to the region, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman.
Monday’s announcements were the latest in a series of moves by the Pentagon to get U.S. forces into the region, including moving Navy ships and Air Force jets.
The new alert orders are in addition to the 2,000 U.S. troops who received orders to prepare to deploy last week for force protection and other contingencies. The additional forces are largely command and control units, a senior military official told reporters Monday.
“There is a significant threat of escalation throughout the region and that would include towards U.S. forces,” the senior military official said.
So far, the Pentagon has ordered a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery, or THAD, to deploy to the Middle East along with an unspecified number of Patriot missile battalions to protect U.S. troops in the region, Ryder said. He did not offer details on where the THAD batteries would be stationed.
A senior defense official said that U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria are there for one purpose only, which is to support local partners who are aiding in the “defeat of ISIS.”
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“When we see this effort, which we will hold Iran accountable for and its proxies, to threaten and attack U.S. forces, what Iran is actually doing is keeping space for ISIS to reconstitute and further destabilizing the region,” the official said.
Since Hamas launched its Oct. 7 terror attacks on Israel, U.S. troops in both Iraq and Syria have thwarted numerous drone attacks. One American contractor died of a heart attack last week during an attack warning at Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq.
On Monday, U.S. forces at the Al Tanf garrison in Syria shot down two drones, Ryder said. No American forces were injured in the attack.
In addition to the recent attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, the destroyer USS Carney shot down several missiles and drones off the coast of Yemen last week. The U.S. government has blamed Houthi rebels for launching the missiles and drones, which were headed in the direction of Israel at the time.
The Pentagon plans to release a list of all confirmed attacks on U.S. troops and bases in the region due to the “acute” environment of misinformation, officials said.
“We don’t know for sure what the target was,” Ryder said on Monday. “Regardless, these missiles are in the vicinity of this ship, and that ship has the inherent right to protect itself.”
The U.S. government believes that there’s “Iranian fingerprints all over” the groups behind the recent increase in attacks in both Iraq and Syria, according to a defense official.
But there are no indications that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered the attacks, Ryder said. He did not name which specific Iranian-backed groups may be behind the recent attacks in Iraq and Syria.
“As you’ve heard Secretary Austin say on Sunday, we are concerned about a broader escalation of these attacks in the days ahead, which is why you’ve seen us announce some additional movements of forces into the region,” Ryder said. “We are going to do everything we need to do to make sure that our forces are protected. As always, we maintain the inherent right of self-defense.”
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