Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman at the U.S. military’s Central Command, said there were “possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq.”
WASHINGTON – The United States and allies are continuing to argue about whether Iran is stepping up threats against American forces in the Middle East – or responding to threats from the Trump administration.
But U.S. officials told The New York Times they escalated their warnings to Iran because of intelligence showing photographs of missiles being loaded onto small boats in the Persian Gulf.
“Overhead imagery showed fully assembled missiles, stoking fears that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps would fire them at United States naval ships,” The Times reported.
The Times also noted that Europeans and some congressional lawmakers are saying that “Iran’s moves might mostly be defensive against what Tehran believes are provocative acts by Washington.”
Last week, CNN also reported that Iran was loading ballistic missiles on boats.
The U.S. has recently stepped up warnings against Iran, telling the nation not to attack U.S. forces and sending B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf to counter alleged threats. On Wednesday, the State Department ordered non-emergency U.S. employees out of Iraq because of the tensions.
The kerfuffle over the photos follows an extraordinary public dispute between U.S. and British officials over whether Iran is, in fact, more of a threat now than it has been in the past.
British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, the No. 2 officer in the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq, said on Tuesday that the threat from Iran is no greater than it was months ago.
Trump’s Iran plan: President fails to present unified message on Iran
The Pentagon pushed back on that comment.
Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said Ghika was wrong, and that his comments “run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding Iranian-backed forces in the region.”
The Trump administration’s warnings to Iran have drawn questions from lawmakers who fear the tensions could lead to military conflict.
Democratic lawmakers have been particularly critical of National Security Adviser John Bolton, who has made no secret of his desire to seek regime change in Iran.
“We should do everything possible to prevent an unnecessary war, beginning with immediately reopening diplomatic channels and toning down the rhetoric,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Trump, meanwhile, has played down the threat of military action, saying he would respond only to some kind of attack from Iran. But he too has elevated warnings to the regime.
Asked about a Times report that Bolton and other officials have discussed the deployment of 120,000 troops to the region to contain Iran, Trump said “we have not planned for that.”
But he added: “Hopefully we’re not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
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