On May 8, General Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S Central Command (CENTCOM), named Iran the “long-term, enduring, most significant threat” to U.S. forces in the Middle East. “Their hegemonic ambitions, their misbehavior, their threats to us and our partners in the region, have been consistent elements of the regime's policy for many years,” he said at a conference hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Make no mistake, we're not seeking a fight with the Iranian regime, but we do have a military force that's designed to be agile, adaptive, and prepared to respond to a variety of contingencies in the Middle East and around the world,” emphasized the general.
McKenzie’s remarks came three days after National Security Advisor John Bolton announced the deployment of a carrier strike group and bomber task force to the Middle East “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.” Bolton said the move was in response to “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” but did not specify further. A CENTCOM spokesperson confirmed the Iranian threat but did not offer details. "U.S. Central Command has seen recent and clear indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack U.S. forces in the region," said Captain Bill Urban. "This include threats on land and in the maritime. We are not going to be able to provide detailed information on specific threats at this time."
On May 10, the Pentagon announced that additional forces, the U.S.S. Arlington and a Patriot battery, would join the carrier group “in response to indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and our interests.”
But the deputy commander of the U.S.-led military coalition against ISIS, U.K. Major General Chris Ghika, contradicted the Pentagon. "There are a range of threats to American and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria," he told reporters on May 14. "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."
The Pentagon quickly released a statement saying that Ghika’s comments “run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding Iranian backed forces in the region.” The following are remarks from the Pentagon on Iran since tensions in the Persian Gulf reached new heights in May 2019.
General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr.
Commander, U.S. Central Command
.@CENTCOM Commander General McKenzie at @FDD today:— FDD (@FDD) May 8, 2019
"Let me be perfectly clear: the long-term, enduring, most significant threat to stability in CENTCOM's areas of responsibility is #Iran."
Full remarks and #CMPP conference video here: https://t.co/mQn5Q5VCP7 pic.twitter.com/JbSUNbDetg
As the President's National Security Strategy states, we must also "work with partners to neutralize Iran's malign activities in the region." Let me be perfectly clear as I reinforce that point. The long-term, enduring, most significant threat to stability in the Central Command AOR is Iran. And the Iranian regime's malign ambitions across the theater and, indeed, globally.
The long-term challenge we face in the Central Command theater is Iran. Their hegemonic ambitions, their misbehavior, their threats to us and our partners in the region, have been consistent elements of the regime's policy for many years. The United States has levied diplomatic information and economic efforts against the regime, in an effort to convince them to cease those unproductive behaviors. My responsibility is the military element of our whole-of-government approach. As part of that, our forces conduct freedom of navigation operations in the Strait of Hormuz. We continue our commitment to the stability of the government of Iraq, and our efforts to build the capacities of our regional partners. In these and other ways, our military forces complement all other government efforts to counter Iranian malign influence in the Middle East.
As you consider military forces, keep in mind that our strategic strength has never been -- has never rested solely on the volume of material we bring to the fight, but rather on the partnerships, the alliances and the whole-of-government efforts that frankly no other country in the world can match.
That's a great advantage that we seek to apply in the Central Command area.
We've been working to build a strong coalition of nations to deter Iran's threats in the region and around the world, ensure freedom of navigation and convince the Iranian regime to end its destabilizing activities. Those include the Iranian regime support to militant partners and terrorism, its proliferation of advanced weapons, including ballistic missiles and unmanned armed aerial systems, its malicious cyber activities and unprofessional naval actions. These activities across the region exacerbate our partners' challenges in an already complex and volatile environment.
The Iranian regime directly engages in far-reaching terrorist activities. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard -- most prominently or most preeminently through its Quds Force -- is the Iranian regime's primary means of directing and carrying out its global terrorist campaigns; providing funding, equipment, training, and logistical support to a broad range of terrorist and militant organizations. Today as I am speaking to you, the Iranian regime is providing support to many designated terrorist groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, Kata'ib Hezbollah in Iraq, and the Al-Ashtar Brigades in Bahrain.
And as we witness the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, it's important to remember that Iran is behind the irresponsible behavior that actually led to the overthrow of the government of Yemen and created the crisis we now have in Yemen. The humanitarian tragedy that we confront in Yemen is the child of Iranian ambition and their support for the Houthis in trying to create a Hezbollah-like state in Yemen.
Now we know that the Iranian regime knows what our military capabilities are, and they have a healthy respect for them -- and that's good. And while they have avoided direct military conflict with the United States and our partners, they have demonstrated the willingness and ability to attack our people, our interests and our friends and allies in the confusing, complex zone just short of armed conflict.
For example, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, we assessed that at least 600 U.S. personnel deaths in Iraq were the result of Iran-backed militants. These casualties were the result of explosively formed penetrators, improvised explosive devices, improvised rocket assisted-munitions, rockets, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, small-arms, sniper and other attacks. All directly the result of Iran.
The Iranian regime has smuggled ballistic missiles into Yemen and assisted with their construction and deployment. And they're employed by the Houthis against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as against the United Arab Emirates, threatening our partners as well as Americans who live and work there. They've also irresponsibly fired missiles into the Bab al-Mandab and the Red Sea, where vital commerce and oil transport occurs.
Iran has also increased funding for its cyber efforts twelvefold in recent years, as well as increased espionage and targeting of U.S. government and commercial entities.
Earlier this week, the White House and the Department of Defense announced that in direct response to a number of troubling and escalatory indicators in warning, we would adjust our military posture -- deploying the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group as well as a bomber task force -- to the Central Command region.
Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake, we're not seeking a fight with the Iranian regime, but we do have a military force that's designed to be agile, adaptive, and prepared to respond to a variety of contingencies in the Middle East and around the world. We will continue to operate wherever international law allows. We will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and a free flow of commerce in international waterways.
This recent forced movement should demonstrate three points for our friends and potential adversaries alike.
First, it sends a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on U.S. interests will be met with unrelenting force. General Dunford, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has pledged never to send our sons and daughters into a fair fight. And if a fight is to be had, we'll be fully prepared to respond and defend our interests -- and it won't be a fair fight.
Second, while we do not seek war, Iran should not confuse our deliberate approach with an unwillingness to act. We field an experienced, ready, battle-hardened force with the best equipment and training in the world.
The third point goes back to the National Defense Strategy and what will become the new norm for posturing our forces around the world. As I mentioned earlier, there are those who think the NDS will realign much of our military power to the EUCOM and INDO-PACOM theaters. And we are going to reposition significant assets into those theaters.
As I told you at the very beginning, I was present at the creation, so I'm very well aware of that and I understand it and fully support it. But also, the reality is that with dynamic force employment, we have the ability to set the globe to deter any adversary or defend our interests and those of our allies, friends and partners anywhere, including in the Central Command region. And to our allies and partners that we work alongside every day and to our potential adversaries as well, we say, rest assured, we aren't going anywhere.
I'll leave you with a quote from General George Washington, who, as president, in his first inaugural address to both houses of Congress in January of 1790 said, “To be prepared for war is one most effectual means of preserving peace.”
We hope and pray for peace but we've set the globe to remain vigilant and prepared.
U.S. Central Command Public Affairs
Capt. Bill Urban, USN, Lead Spokesman
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. 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.
Statement from the Department of Defense on Additional Forces to U.S. Central Command
The Acting Secretary of Defense has approved the movement of USS Arlington (LPD-24) and a Patriot battery to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) as part of the command’s original request for forces from earlier this week.
These assets will join the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a U.S. Air Force bomber task force in the Middle East region in response to indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against U.S. forces and our interests.
The Department of Defense continues to closely monitor the activities of the Iranian regime, their military and proxies. Due to operational security, we will not discuss timelines or location of forces.
The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are postured and ready to defend U.S. forces and interests in the region.
USS Arlington is a San Antonio-class ship that transports U.S. Marines, amphibious vehicles, conventional landing craft and rotary aircraft with the capability to support amphibious assault, special operations, or expeditionary warfare missions.
USS Arlington also provides a high quality command and control capability and improved interoperability with our allies and partners in the region.
A Patriot battery is a long-range, all-weather air defense system to counter tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and advanced aircraft.
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3nd Class Juan A. Cubano/Released