U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday that Iran may be planning attacks on U.S. targets, but the U.S. is prepared to take preemptive strikes to defend itself.
“The game has changed, and we’re prepared to do what is necessary to defend our personnel and our interests and our partners in the region,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon, according to the Associated Press.
“We will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces and protect American lives,” he added.
Esper also said there are “indications” that Iran may be planning attacks on U.S. targets in the Middle East, and pointed to attacks on U.S. bases in recent months.
He also remarked that the Marine crisis response force and the Fort Bragg-based Army paratroopers were continuing to provide “defensive support” at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley spoke alongside Esper and vowed that future attempts to attack the embassy will face “a buzzsaw.”
Additional Iran-backed Iraqi militias have already waged threats to carry out attacks on U.S. targets.
Commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami said on Thursday that Iran isn’t trying to go to war, but it won’t back down from one that arises.
“This hatred against the US is pervasive all over the world,” Salami said, according to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency. “We do not lead the country to war, but we are not afraid of any war.”
Salami denounced the U.S. for blaming Iran for participating in or supporting protests carried out by Iraqi militias.
Also on Thursday, Iraqi Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, a branch of the Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) said it intends to attack U.S. military bases and embassies.
“When the Popular Mobilization Forces are capable of besieging the embassy of evil in Baghdad on this day, then they will soon besiege all the US military bases in Iraq – they will even besiege the embassies of countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and others,” Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada’s Secretary-General, Abo Alaa Al-Walai said, according to the Jerusalem Post.
In September, Al-Walai threatened on video to join Iran in a U.S.-Iranian conflict and vowed to hold all Americans in Iraq hostage.
#ICYMI: Iraqi Shiite Militia Leader Abu Alaa Al-Walai: If U.S.-Iran War Breaks out, We Will Fight alongside Iran, All Americans in Iraq Will Be Held Hostages by the Resistance; We Could Easily Send Drone to Strike (U.S.) Embassy pic.twitter.com/tf9a8yKHWN
— MEMRI (@MEMRIReports) September 6, 2019