Pentagon chief warns of increased risk against US troops in Mideast

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has warned that American soldiers in the Middle East face increased risk of being attacked as Iran and its allies in the region look to exploit the turmoil created by the Israel-Hamas war. The Pentagon chief has vowed to respond to attacks by Tehran and its allies. Iranian officials say Tehran was not involved in the recent Hamas attack on Israel but warn the Zionist regime's crimes against the people of Gaza could “ricochet far-reaching consequences".

Bases housing US troops in Iraq and Syria have already been targeted in rocket and drone attacks in recent days, and the Pentagon is concerned about further escalation of the Israel crisis, Austin said on Sunday in an ABC News interview.

“In fact, what we’re seeing is the prospect of a significant escalation of attacks on our troops and our people throughout the region, and because of that, we’re going to do what’s necessary to make sure that our troops are in a good position, they’re protected, and that we have the ability to respond.”

Shortly after Hamas launched surprise attacks against Israel on October 7, the Pentagon dispatched two aircraft carriers, five guided missile destroyers and other ships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea. One of the strike groups, led by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier, was redirected to the Persian Gulf on Saturday, and the Pentagon announced it activated additional missile batteries in several undisclosed locations to help protect US forces in the region.

“This additional deployment sends another message to those who would seek to widen this conflict,” Austin stated.

He added, “If any group or any country is looking to widen this conflict and take advantage of this very unfortunate situation that we see, our advice is: don’t. We maintain the right to defend ourselves, and we won’t hesitate to take the appropriate action.”

The USS Carney destroyer, located in the Red Sea, shot down three missiles and several drones that were launched from the region of Yemen controlled by Houthi rebels on Thursday. The missiles were traveling north, potentially toward targets in Israel, a Pentagon spokesman claimed.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Austin’s concerns, saying Washington expects additional attacks on American troops by Iranian-backed groups.

“We are taking steps to make sure that we can effectively defend our people and respond decisively if we need to,” he stated on Sunday in an NBC News interview.

“This is not what we want, not what we’re looking for. We don’t want escalation. We don’t want to see a second or third front develop. We don’t want to see our forces or our personnel come under fire, but if that happens, we’re ready for it,” Blinken added.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has accused the US of waging a “proxy war against Palestinians” and warned that the situation will get out of hand if the bombardment of Gaza is not stopped and Israel launches the ground assault it is preparing for.

Speaking at the joint press conference with his South African counterpart Naledi Pandor in Tehran on Sunday, the Iranian top diplomat said that it was a “bitter and unfortunate reality” that US President Joe Biden made an “extraordinary wartime visit” to Tel Aviv this week to show support for the Benjamin Netanyahu government amid the bombardment of the Palestinian enclave and lack of humanitarian aid.

“It’s a great shame that the American president announced that the US would dispatch hundreds of planes, ships and trucks filled with military equipment to the occupied territories to support the mass murder that Israel is committing in Gaza but has managed to coordinate plans for only 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid to enter the besieged enclave,” he added.

Amirabdollahian called the situation in the region a “powder keg” and warned of “heavy and bitter consequences.”

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