Top US Gen. Frank McKenzie continues to see 'heightened risk' from Iran
With the anniversary of the US drone attack in which a top Iranian general was killed, there is still an "increased risk" of an Iranian threat to American interests in the Middle East, the US top general in the Middle East said in an interview with ABC News. But General Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie also downplayed the fact that a conflict between the US and Iran is more likely.
McKenzie made his comments a day after the U.S. Navy issued the rare confirmation that a U.S. submarine had entered the Persian Gulf, a move widely viewed as a message to Iran.
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The head of US Central Command spoke to ABC News on his way back to the US about a trip to the Middle East that included stops in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
US officials were concerned that Iran or its support groups in the region might take revenge for the January 3 American drone attack that killed the Revolutionary Guard commander, General Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad.
PHOTO: In this photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy, the guided missile submarine USS Georgia crosses the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf with the guided missile cruiser USS Port Royal on Monday, December 21, 2020. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Indra Beaufort / US Navy via AP)
Recently, McKenzie told reporters that US intelligence saw a higher risk of attack by Iran or Iranian-backed groups in Iraq
"I think we are still in a period of increased risk," McKenzie told ABC News on Tuesday. "I just want to emphasize this crucial point: we don't want to escalate. We are not looking for war with Iran, I really want to emphasize that."
McKenzie continues to view Iran and its proxies as the greatest threat to US interests in the region, but said, "I believe Iran does not want war with the United States right now."
MORE: The US general is confident that the Iraqis will urge American forces to stay in Iraq
"And I know the United States is not going to war with Iran," he added.
On Monday, the US Navy made it a goal to publicly announce the transit of the submarine USS Georgia into the Persian Gulf. This move is widely seen as a message to Iran not to create tension.
McKenzie would provide no explanation for the submarine's use in the Gulf except to say, "There are many reasons to put a submarine directly in the Arabian Gulf. I will not comment on that."
PHOTO: General of the Marine Corps, Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), poses for a picture during his visit to a military base in al-Kharj, central Saudi Arabia on July 18, 2019. (Fayez Nureldine / AFP via Getty Images, FILE)
And he noted that if a submarine passes through the Strait of Hormuz, it will "be on the surface".
"So you can take this for what it's worth," he said.
The threat to US forces and interests in Iraq usually comes in the form of rocket attacks by Iranian-backed Shiite militias against the US embassy in Baghdad, although those attacks have leveled off recently.
But on Sunday evening, unknown attackers fired 20 107-mm missiles at the embassy premises, killing an Iraqi civilian. No Americans were injured in the attack, which damaged some structures on the site.
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"The launch of more than 20 missiles in the US embassy is certainly an escalation," said McKenzie, who also described the attack as "very worrying" as it was the largest such attack since 2010.
"We take this very seriously," said McKenzie. "We have shared our concern with the Iraqi government. We are here at your invitation. You have a responsibility to protect us, and I actually believe that you take it very seriously."
The investigation to determine who was responsible for the attack continues, and with so many missiles fired, McKenzie predicted "there will be a lot of evidence".
An assessment is also made to determine whether the C-RAM air defense system played a role in minimizing the damage and losses in the attack.
PHOTO: In this file, captured on Nov. 28, 2008, U.S. Army soldiers from Infantry Division 1-506 made their way to patrol Paktika Province on the Afghan-Pakistani border. (David Furst / AFP via Getty Images, file)
The missile attack took place 12 hours after McKenzie left Iraq after meeting the Iraqi defense chief. McKenzie remained optimistic that an agreement would be reached with Iraq on maintaining a long-term American military presence in the country.
The US is in the process of reducing the number of armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to 2,500 by mid-January.
The troop downsizing in Afghanistan means there are more NATO forces than US troops in Afghanistan, and McKenzie expected that it would continue to do so when NATO likely decides to reduce its troop levels early next year.
MORE: Pentagon announces troop reductions in Afghanistan and Iraq
McKenzie said the US will continue to be able to conduct its counter-terrorism and advisory missions in Afghanistan, although these operations "will not be as robust as in the past".
The Taliban stopped attacking US forces in Afghanistan as part of the US peace deal earlier this year. McKenzie, however, remains concerned about the "multiple" number of Taliban attacks against Afghan security forces.
He was optimistic that the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators will be able to tackle the scale of the violence when they resume peace talks in Qatar on January 5th.
US General Frank McKenzie continues to see an "increased risk" from Iran, originally posted on abcnews.go.com
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