Secretary Of Defense Mark T. Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley told reporters on Thursday that “the game has changed” with how the United States will respond to Iranian aggression in the region, warning that further Iranian aggression against the U.S. “will run into a buzz saw.”
The remarks by Esper and Milley happened during a press gaggle before an American MQ-9 Reaper drone fired missiles at a convoy of terrorists that was leaving Baghdad International Airport.
The strike incurred the deaths of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force leader Qassim Suleimani and top Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, who headed the Iranian-linked Popular Mobilization Forces. The IRGC and Quds Force are both designated terrorist organizations.
Esper and Milley made the remarks while fielding questions about the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by Iranian-backed terrorists earlier this week.
“Their provocative behavior’s been out there for months, right? They’ve been – they’ve been shooting rockets, indirect fire, any type of things, attacking our bases for months now. In the last two alone, we’ve nearly a dozen attacks against U.S. forces, against our coalition partners,” Epser said. “So do I think they may do something? Yes. And they will likely regret it. And we are prepared to exercise self-defense, and we are prepared to deter further bad behavior from these groups, all of which are sponsored and directed and resourced by Iran.”
Milley weighed in by noting that Iran’s campaign of aggression against U.S. forces in the area has been steadily increasing in recent months.
“We know that there’s been a sustained campaign at least since October. We know that for certain. We know that the campaign has increased in tempo and intensity. So, in October, there were four attacks. In November, there were four to five. In December, today, up until the 27th, there were six attacks,” Milley said. “We know that the number of rounds have been increasing, from ‘x’ all the way up to 31. We know that the intent of this last attack was in fact to kill American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, whoever was there. It was about a hundred soldiers at that particular compound.”
“Thirty-one rockets aren’t designed as a warning shot. That’s designed to inflict damage and kill. So this has been a sustained campaign by K.H., which is under the influence, command, control, support, training, advice, et cetera, of Iranian special operations forces. So there’s no doubt in our mind as to what happened here.”
Esper noted that the plan now is to take “preemptive action” in countering Iran before they can launch attacks against U.S. forces.
“So the – 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 said.
Milley added that if Iranian-backed forces again try to attack U.S. interests in the area, in particular the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, that “there is sufficient combat power there, air and ground, that anyone who attempts to overrun that will run into a buzz saw.”