In a swift and unusual rebuke, U.S. Central Command stated Tuesday that U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria were on high alert against possible "imminent" attack by Iran and its proxies, countering claims earlier in the day by a deputy commander that Iran posed no immediate threat.
Remarks Tuesday morning by British Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika, deputy commander of Operation Inherent Resolve, given in a video briefing to the Pentagon, "run counter to the identified credible threats available to intelligence from U.S. and allies regarding Iranian-backed forces in the region," Navy Capt. Bill Urban, CENTCOM spokesman, said in a statement.
In his briefing, Ghika said in response to questions that "No, there's been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria" despite warnings from the White House to the contrary. But Urban said CENTCOM has already coordinated with OIR to boost "the force posture level for all service members assigned to OIR in Iraq and Syria."
"As a result, OIR is now at a high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to U.S. forces in Iraq, " Urban said.
Ghika had said that OIR officials saw no reason currently to raise alert levels, particularly in regard to the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, in Iraq whose ranks include militias closely linked to Iran.
"If the threat level seems to go up, then we'll raise our force protection measures accordingly," Ghika said.
The swift walkback of Ghika's remarks could be seen as reflecting concerns that warnings from White House and Pentagon officials, supported by President Donald Trump, on the threats to U.S. interests in the region and U.S. resolve on retaliation would not be taken seriously by Tehran.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday warned of possible "false flag" operations in the region that the U.S. could use as an excuse to attack Iran, according to Iran's state-run Fars news agency. He referred to reports of damages inflicted on four ships in the United Arab Emirates this week.
"We discussed the regional issues and dangers that the policies of extremist individuals in the U.S. administration are trying to impose on the region as well as concerns about the suspicious and sabotage acts that happen in our region," Zarif said in New Delhi after meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, Fars reported.
"We had earlier predicted that they will adopt such measures to provoke tensions," Zarif said, according to Fars.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.