WASHINGTON — A top general in the U.S.-led Operation Inherent Resolve said Tuesday there has been no “increased threat from Iranian backed” groups to U.S.-led coalition troops in Iraq or Syria — one key reason cited by the Pentagon for moving military assets to the Persian Gulf region.
U. K. Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, deputy commander, Strategy and Information, Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, told Pentagon reporters that most Iranian groups seem “compliant” despite the rising acrimony between Tehran and Washington.
“We’ve seen no change in the posture or the lay down of the PMF (Popular Mobilization Forces), Ghika said, via a video link from Baghdad. “Of course, the PMF is a moniker for a very broad range of groups, so I think it’s important to say that many of them are compliant.”
He said that even with the rise in tension “we’ve seen no change in their posture since the recent exchange between the U.S. and Iran. And we hope and expect that to continue.”
Ghika’s flat-out assertion of no increase in activity is in sharp contrast to what U.S. officials have maintained for at least 10 days. Pentagon officials have stated unspecified threats from Iran and its proxies as justification to send an extra bomber wing, a Patriot anti-missile battery and an upgraded amphibious unit to the Persian Gulf region, along with other military assets.
Just over four hours later — in an incredbly rare public brush back — U.S. military officials struck back saying Ghika was incorrect.
“Recent comments from OIR’s Deputy Commander run counter to the identified
credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding
Iranian backed forces in the region,” Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman U.S. Central
Command, said in an email to Pentgon reporters.
“U.S. Central Command, in coordination with Operation Inherent Resolve, has increased the force posture level for all service members assigned to OIR in Iraq and Syria. As a result, OIR is now at a high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and
possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq,” he said.
Ghika made clear that ongoing threats remain.
“There are a range of threats to American and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria,” Ghika said. “We monitor them all. Iranian backed forces is clearly one of them and I am not going to go into the detail of it, but there are a substantial number of militia groups in Iraq and Syria and we don’t see an increased threat from many of them at this stage.”
He noted that “in this part of the world there always have been (threats)…that is why we have a very robust range of force protection measures.” He said the military monitors the groups carefully and “we raise and reduce our force protection levels accordingly.
“I don’t think I’m out of step with the White House at all,” he said.
Ghika declined to answer if the threat level has been raised in Iraq because of the tension with Iran. “If you come to Baghdad, and come into our base, then we’ll tell you what the threat level is,” he said.