US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday that his country has deployed about 14,000 troops to the Middle East to confront Iran’s growing influence in the region.
“Iran continue its malign influence and widespread destabilizing activities across the Middle East,” Esper said during an onstage discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, citing Iranian support to its proxies in Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq, and shutting down of US drone attacks on shipments in the Strait of Hormuz.
“To address these threats, since May this year, nearly 14,000 US military personnel have been deployed to the region to further enhance deterrence and demonstrate our commitment to our allies and partners,” he added.
Believing that Iran could be behind a series of attacks on its military bases in Iraq, several US officials told CNN last week that the US is increasingly concerned about new provocations against their troops in the region.
A number of defense sources told the news agency that the US may deploy 4,000-7,000 additional troops to the area.
Esper’s comments follow rocket attacks on a military base near Baghdad airport, which houses US troops, on Wednesday. The tenth of its kind since late October, the attack was blamed on the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), known as Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic.
Two days earlier, several members of the Iraqi counter-terrorism units, trained by the US, were wounded near the same airport in an overnight attack.
“We strongly condemn the Iranian proxy attack that wounded five Iraqi soldiers near the Baghdad Airport this week. To Iran’s leaders – the U.S. will respond decisively if Iran or its proxies harm U.S. personnel or our Iraqi partners,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on Friday.
Kataib Hezbollah, which is part of Hashd al-Shaabi and is blacklisted by the US, was blamed by security sources for the attacks.