U.S. Looking to Adjust Its Defenses in the Middle East After Iran Missile Attack

Washington expected a missile strike, but didn't think it would happen in Iraq, according to a senior American official

Reuters
Reuters
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks with U.S. troops in front of a Patriot missile battery at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, October 22, 2019.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper speaks with U.S. troops in front of a Patriot missile battery at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia, October 22, 2019. Credit: STAFF/ REUTERS
Reuters
Reuters

The U.S. military is weighing adjustments to its defensive posture in the Middle East after Iran upended assumptions by staging a missile attack in Iraq, a country where it wields influence, a U.S. defense official said on Thursday.

For days before Wednesday's unprecedented strike, Iran had threatened to retaliate over the U.S. killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani - threats that Washington took seriously.

Reuters reported on Sunday that the United States had detected that Iranian missile forces across the country had been put on a heightened state of alert. A missile attack had been seen inside of the U.S. government as the most likely option for any formal response from Iran's military.

But Tehran had been seen as more likely to attack U.S. positions in countries other than Iraq, where Tehran counts some influential allies, the senior U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The disclosure helps explain why the United States did not have Patriot air defenses deployed to locations like al-Asad air base in Iraq, where at least 11 of Iran's ballistic missiles struck in Wednesday's attack. Such systems are deployed elsewhere in the region where American forces are stationed, including in Saudi Arabia, an arch-foe of Iran.

Instead, U.S. forces took advantage of the hours of early warning provided by U.S. intelligence and were able to take more rudimentary defensive measures before missiles fired from at least three locations inside of Iran hit their targets in Iraq.

Such precautions include "scatter plans," huddling in bunkers and protective gear to help shield American forces that come under fire.

There were no U.S. casualties, an accomplishment that U.S. military leaders said was due to commanders on the ground - not Tehran's goodwill.

Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said he believed the attack had been intended to kill U.S. personnel at al-Asad. He noted that the missiles had 1,000- to 2,000-pound warheads on them, each with significant explosive power able to kill people in a wide area around the detonation site.

It was unclear whether the U.S. military might now seek to station Patriots inside of Iraq - and where they would be moved from. Air defenses are a scarce resource in the U.S. military.

U.S. officials are still concerned that Iran-backed groups across the region could wage attacks on the United States.

The Pentagon has sent thousands of additional forces to the Middle East in recent weeks, including from the 82nd Airborne Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

$1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN

A family grieves outside the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Wednesday.

Israeli PM Offers Condolences After Texas Gunman Kills 21 at Elementary School

U.S. President Joe Biden, this week.

Biden Decides to Keep Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Terror List, Says Report

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

Progressive Jews Urge ADL Chief to Apologize for Calling Out Democratic Activist

Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders with Jessica Cisneros in San Antonio last week.

It’s AIPAC vs. Bernie Sanders in Too-close-to-call Texas Democratic Runoff

U.S. President Joe Biden. Making a historic pivot to Asia.

Biden Does What His Three Predecessors Talked About Yet Failed to Do

Meir Kahane addressing his followers during a demonstration in Jerusalem, in 1984.

Why the U.S. Removed Kahane Chai From Terrorist Blacklist