The U.S. retaliatory airstrikes against militants in Iraq destroyed five weapons depots, but the top U.S commander for the Middle East acknowledged Friday that there are many similar sites that the U.S. has so far not hit because of potential civilian casualties and political sensitivities with the Iraqi government.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie said the U.S. decision to target the Iranian-backed Shiite militia group that killed American and British troops in a rocket attack this week sends a strong message to Iran and its proxies. But he said that as the threat of continued attacks remains high and tensions with Iran have not gone down, the U.S. is beefing up military assets in the region.
“What should now be obvious to everyone is you’re not going to be able to fire those at a U.S. or coalition base, hurt or kill our people, and escape unscathed,” McKenzie told Pentagon reporters Friday. He said the U.S. has been aware of the weapons sites and knows where more are, but has exercised “restraint” in bombing them because in some cases strikes would kill “a lot” of civilians. He said the U.S. works with the Iraq military to take out the sites, but at times that doesn’t work.
At times nothing quite works in the fog of war, but the reality is that we cannot completely exit the Middle East until business is good and done. That does not mean that our military is not engaged in a way we can be proud of.
Due to the ongoing threat, McKenzie said Defense Secretary Mark Esper has agreed to keep two Navy aircraft carriers — the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Harry S. Truman — in the Gulf region “for a period of time.” He said this is the first time since 2012 that the U.S. has had two carriers in the region at the same time.
He also said that Patriot air defense missile systems are being moved into Iraq to provide defenses against ballistic missile attacks like the January strike by Iran that hit an Iraqi air base where U.S. troops were present. No Americans were killed in that attack but dozens suffered mild traumatic brain injury. Since then, Washington has been negotiating with the Iraqi government to permit the Patriot deployment.
So, it’s not quite over yet. At least actions taken will hopefully ensure a lack of escalation.