U.S. troops stationed across the Middle East are on the lookout for Iran’s regional network of allied militias potentially opening new fronts in the most serious flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence in decades.
“We are monitoring across the region for any indicators or warnings that these groups would consider piling on or entering this conflict in a way that escalates it,” a spokesperson for U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) told Newsweek.
This is why, according to the spokesperson, “we adjusted our posture.” One day after the surprise land, air and sea attack led by the Palestinian Hamas movement against Israel on Saturday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced new military moves designed “to bolster regional deterrence efforts.”
This included the deployment of the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean and boosting supplies of equipment and resources to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
The CENTCOM spokesperson declined to divulge “specific force protection measures or future operations,” but affirmed that “we remain concerned about Iranian supported militia groups and that we continue to take appropriate measures to ensure the security of U.S. military personnel.”
As of January 2022, one year into President Joe Biden’s tenure in office, the U.S. had more than 30,000 troops in the Middle East, including roughly 2,500 in Iraq and 900 in Syria.
The latest data provided by the Pentagon’s budget request submitted in March for fiscal year 2024 show the number of troops supporting operations in these two countries rose from 3,400 in fiscal year 2022 to 3,949 in fiscal year 2023 with a request to draw down to 3,558 in the coming fiscal year.
Iraq and Syria have hosted Iran-backed militias that have occasionally targeted U.S. troops, drawing U.S. airstrikes on the groups’ positions on several occasions under Biden and his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
While no attacks have compared to the comprehensive operation launched by Hamas on Israel over the weekend, militias with suspected links to Iran in Iraq and Syria have at times conducted multifaceted attacks of their own involving rockets, drones and small arms fire.