A split is emerging as Biden struggles to prevent attacks on US troops

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An increase in attacks on deployed US forces has alarmed some inside the Defense Department, where officials are frustrated by what they see as a strategy of non- determined to oppose Iranian agents believed responsible, admitting that the limited retaliation horns approved by President Biden have failed to stop the violence. .

“There is no clear definition of what we are trying to stop,” he said one protection official, who spoke as others on the condition of anonymity to be open. “Are we trying to prevent future attacks like this from Iran? Well, that clearly doesn’t work. “

Widespread anger in the Middle East over US support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, where thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed in the past six weeks, has raised concerns among Biden and his representatives that encourage any overreaction to the attacks on US personnel. wider conflict. In conjunction with the airstrikes, administration officials have repeatedly urged Tehran over the past month to contain the militia groups it supports, warning that ” the right” of the United States to respond “at the time of our election.” But these warnings went unheeded.

Location of the 61 attacks on the US

troops since the start of the Israel-Gaza war

Attacks between 17 October and 17 November

Source: US Department of Defense


Location of all 61 attacks on US troops since the start of the Israel-Gaza war

Attacks between 17 October and 17 November

Diplomatic Baghdad

Support center

Source: US Department of Defense


Since October 17, US troops in Iraq and Syria have faced almost daily attacks from rocket fire and one-way drones, recording at least 61 incidents and about as many injuries in that race. Pentagon data obtained by the Washington Post shows that the attacks have targeted 10 centers used by American workers spread across the two countries.

In response, Biden has authorized three rounds of airstrikes, all in eastern Syria. The latest sites, dated November 12, target the Pentagon, which has been identified as being used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and “Iran-affiliated groups.” A US official said up to seven terrorists were killed, a “rough estimate” as the United States continues to assess the results.

The strikes have destroyed alleged warehouses containing arms and ammunition, a command center and a training facility, officials said. But each operation failed to dampen the drumbeat of hostile activity, which in all cases began almost immediately. The 61 attacks on US troops have also reached a surprising level: There were about 80 similar incidents between January 2021 and March of this year, the Pentagon has said.

A senior defense official said the Pentagon has given the president additional options beyond what has been done so far. This person also confirmed that, within the Department of Defence, there is more doubt about the current approach.

In a statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said Biden has shown “he will never hesitate to act to protect US forces” and that the president is “fully prepared to take additional measures to be taken as necessary at any given time to protect our people. .”

Iran has long supported militias seeking to dismantle America’s presence in Iraq and Syria, where about 3,500 troops are deployed to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State terrorist group. Tehran also supports Hezbollah in Lebanon, whose leaders have threatened to open a new front against Israel, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Pentagon said the Houthis destroyed a $30 million US Reaper drone over the Red Sea in recent days, and in recent weeks US warships have deployed weapons which was fired from Yemen towards Israel.

Christine Abizaid, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told House lawmakers on Wednesday that despite the unabated attacks on American workers, Iran and its proxies are “trying to walk a very fine line in the area. “There seems to be a strong effort, she said, to avoid “overt actions that risk opening them up to more direct conflict with Israel or the United States while still raising costs by enabling attacks against the US and against Israel. “

In their public statements, Defense Department officials have tried to downplay the attacks in Iraq and Syria, describing them as often inaccurate and causing significant damage to US infrastructure. The injured soldiers have all returned to duty, they said, classifying the reported brain injuries and other collateral damage as “minor”. The United States has also deployed more air defense systems in the region, which have shot down several of the drones, according to Pentagon data.

But as the number of attacks has continued to climb, there is also concern that it is only a matter of time before someone claims the life of a US service member.

“I don’t feel any restraint,” said Senator Kevin Cramer (RND), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in an interview. “They keep firing, waiting for us to respond. We don’t, so they keep shooting. And eventually one of those drones, or one of those missiles or rockets, is going to kill an American. And then we’ll be off to the races.”

“I’m not suggesting that we start a full-scale war with Tehran,” he said. “But I think our position has to be a little more aggressive than just defensive, because one of these days, we’re going to miss one of those drones. “

A senior US defense official admitted that the Pentagon sees few good alternatives to the measures taken so far, which, in addition to the limited airstrikes and the build-up of air defense weapons, ‘ involving the use of two aircraft carriers near Israel and Iran. Strikes in Iraq, for example, have the potential to exacerbate anti-American sentiment there, where US troops are deployed at the invitation of the government in Baghdad. Direct strikes on Iran would be a major escalation.

The Pentagon continues to update response options, the US official said.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Defense Department spokeswoman Sabrina Singh rejected the suggestion that these sustained attacks on American forces exposed deficiencies in the administration’s deterrence strategy. The outbreak of the war in Gaza, she said, is no proof that the approach is working.

The three retaliatory operations carried out so far, Singh said, are intended “to signal and send a strong message to Iran, and its affiliates, to stop.” When a reporter challenged the accusation, noting that the militia fighters “keep hitting” US troops, Singh said the military’s response has been “to good on purpose” and that Iran “definitely sees that message. “

Joseph Votel, a retired Army general who served as head of US Central Command over military operations in the Middle East from 2016 to 2019, said it may be too early to tell whether or not they can -the administration’s strategy to prevent attacks on US troops.

“When you do things to try to change people’s behavior, it takes time for that to sink in,” said Votel, now a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, a think tank. “We now have to think about scale and responsiveness, and how that will impact over time.”

Whether it happens soon enough, he said, is “subject to interpretation.”

Missy Ryan contributed to this report.

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