CENTCOM corrects British general: US forces in Iraq and Syria on heightened alert for Iranian attacks
"U.S. Central Command, in coordination with Operation Inherent Resolve, has increased 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...
CENTCOM corrects British general: US forces in Iraq and Syria on heightened alert for Iranian attacks
Task and Purpose said:A British two-star general had to eat his own words on Tuesday after contradicting the White House, which has warned that Iranian-backed forces could attack U.S. troops in Syria and Iraq.
"There's been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria," Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, a deputy commander for the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, told reporters at a Pentagon news briefing.
"We are monitoring the Shia militia groups carefully and if the threat level perceives to go up them we will raise our force protection levels accordingly."
But after being pressed by reporters on the matter, Ghika engaged in verbal gymnastics to try to say he was on the same page as the White House by saying the coalition monitors a range of possible threats and it raises and lowers security levels appropriately.
Eventually, when a reporter asked Ghika what if the threat condition level in Baghdad has been raised, the general replied: "If you come to Baghdad and you come onto our base in Baghdad, then we'll tell you what the threat level is."
Later on Tuesday, U.S. Central Command issued a statement saying Ghika's comments "run counter to the identified credible threats" of Iranian-backed forces in the region.
"U.S. Central Command, in coordination with Operation Inherent Resolve, has increased the force posture level for all service members assigned to OIR in Iraq and Syria," the statement says. "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."
Tensions with Iran have rocketed in the past week amid intelligence reports that Iran and its proxies could be preparing to attack U.S. forces in the Middle East. The Pentagon has approved sending more ships, bombers, and Patriot missiles to the Central Command region.
The New York Times reported on Monday that Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan recently briefed White House National Security Advisor Ambassador John Bolton on sending up to 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East should Iran attack the United States or accelerate its nuclear weapons program.
President Donald Trump disputed the story on Tuesday, telling reporters that he'd dispatch "a hell of a lot more troops than that" in case of war with Iran.
But Newsweek confirmed that Bolton has asked the Pentagon for a number of different scenarios to respond to Iran, ranging from airstrikes to pre-positioning the 120,000 U.S. troops to provide the initial footprint for a ground invasion of Iran that would involve a larger force.
Helicopters ferried U.S. staff from the American embassy in Baghdad on Wednesday...
U.S. pulls staff from Iraq amid concerns over Iran
Reuters said:BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Washington ordered the departure of non-emergency American employees from its diplomatic missions in Iraq on Wednesday in another show of concern about alleged threats from Iran.
President Donald Trump’s administration is applying new sanctions pressure on Tehran and sending additional forces to the Middle East to counter what it says is a heightened threat from Iran to U.S. soldiers and interests in the region.
Iran calls that “psychological warfare”, and a British commander cast doubt on U.S. military concerns about threats to its roughly 5,000 soldiers in Iraq, who have been helping local security forces fight Islamic State jihadists.
The U.S. State Department said employees at both the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Erbil, capital of semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, were being pulled out immediately due to safety concerns.
It was unclear how many personnel were affected, and there was no word on any specific threat. Visa services were suspended at the heavily-fortified U.S. missions.
“Ensuring the safety of U.S. government personnel and citizens is our highest priority ... and we want to reduce the risk of harm,” a State Department spokesman said.
Also on Wednesday, Germany, which has 160 soldiers in Iraq, suspended military training operations, citing increasing regional tensions. And the Netherlands suspended a mission providing assistance to Iraqi local authorities, Dutch news agency ANP said.
Both the United States and Iran have said they do not want war, and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday he had indications “things will end well” despite the rhetoric.
Iraq has said it will keep strong ties with Iran, but also with the United States and regional neighbours, some of whom, like Saudi Arabia, consider Tehran an arch-rival.
“I think we are now in a quite dangerous situation where a miscalculation by either side could lead us into conflict,” U.S. Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN in an interview on Wednesday.
“When you project force into a very volatile region and you’ve got real tension between Iran and the Saudis — we have to be careful. We need a strategy,” Coons said, echoing a call by Congress for the government to brief lawmakers.
The State Department reissued travel advisory for Iraq saying U.S. citizens were at high risk of violence and kidnapping. “Anti-U.S. sectarian militias may also threaten U.S. citizens and Western companies throughout Iraq,” it said.
A senior Iranian official said on Wednesday that any conflict in the region will have “unimaginable consequences.”
Reporting by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Raya Jalabi in Erbil; Additional reporting by Susan Heavy and Makini Brice in Washington; Writing by Raya Jalabi and John Davison; Editing by Catherine Evans and Andrew Cawthorne
The Netherlands has followed Germany in suspending its mission in Iraq amid heightening tensions between the US and Iraq’s neighbor, Iran.
Netherlands joins Germany in halting Iraq mission due to security threat
RT said:The Netherlands has followed Germany in suspending its mission in Iraq amid heightening tensions between the US and Iraq’s neighbor, Iran.
The Netherlands decided to halt the mission which provided assistance to the Iraqi authorities because of a security threat, the Dutch ANP news agency said.
The Dutch Defense Ministry confirmed the suspension of the mission to the media. The ministry’s spokesperson told ANP that withdrawal of Dutch forces from the area is “currently not discussed.”
Around 50 Dutch soldiers train Kurdish forces in Iraq’s northern city of Erbil, others are stationed in Baghdad. According to some reports, the decision to suspend the training mission was taken by the commander of the international coalition which currently operates in Iraq.
The report gave no details about the alleged danger. The Dutch military take part in a training mission, alongside other foreign nations, including Germany.
The German Defense Ministry has earlier announced that it halted its mission aimed at training the Iraqi soldiers, citing increasing tensions on the ground. The developments came after Washington ordered all the non-essential personnel of the American embassy in Bagdad and a consulate in Erbil to leave Iraq as soon as possible.
The US evacuation alarmed some EU politicians, who expressed concern that Washington might go to war against Tehran and called on Europe to prevent such an outcome.
“The US is poised for war with Iran,” a leader of the Left Party’s faction in the German parliament, Sahra Wagenknecht, warned. She called on those, “who want to save the international peace and the Iranian nuclear deal,” to “make it clear that they are against these war plans, arbitrary US sanctions and the use of the US military bases in Europe [in a potential war with Iran].”
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday Tehran does not se...
Iran's Supreme Leader says there will be no war with U.S.
Reuters said:LONDON (Reuters) - Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday Tehran does not seek war with the United States despite mounting tensions between the two arch-enemies over Iranian nuclear capabilities and its missile program.
In comments to senior officials carried by state television, Khamenei also reiterated that the Islamic Republic would not negotiate with the United States on another nuclear deal.
“There won’t be any war. The Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance,” Khamenei was cited as saying by the state media. “We don’t seek a war, and they don’t either. They know it’s not in their interests.”
President Donald Trump withdrew the United States a year ago from a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers under which Tehran curbed its uranium enrichment capacity, a potential pathway to a nuclear bomb, and won sanctions relief in return.
Since then, Trump has ratcheted up sanctions on Iran, seeking to reduce its lifeblood oil exports to zero, to push Tehran into fresh negotiations on a broader arms control deal, targeting in part the Iranian ballistic missile program.
“(Such) negotiations are a poison,” Khamenei said.
The United Arab Emirates reported on Sunday that four commercial vessels including two Saudi oil tankers had been sabotaged offshore from the UAE emirate of Fujairah just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
U.S. national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran may have been behind the attacks.
Iran has rejected the allegation and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Tuesday that “extremist individuals” in the U.S. government were pursuing dangerous policies, stoking a war of words with Washington over sanctions.
Trump warned on Monday Iran would “suffer greatly” if it targeted U.S. interests after Washington deployed an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Middle East.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied a New York Times report that U.S. offic...
Trump denies U.S. plan to send 120,000 troops to counter Iran threat
Reuters said:WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday denied a New York Times report that U.S. officials were discussing a military plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East to counter any attack or nuclear weapons acceleration by Iran.
“I think it’s fake news, OK? Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. 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,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
The Times reported that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented an updated plan last week in a meeting of top national security aides that envisions sending as many as 120,000 American troops to the region if Iran attacks U.S. forces or accelerates work on its nuclear weapons.
The updated plan does not call for a land invasion of Iran, which would require far more troops, the Times reported, citing unidentified administration officials.
The plan reflects revisions ordered by Iran hawks including national security adviser John Bolton, the newspaper said.
U.S. national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Ir...
U.S. believes Iran proxies may be behind tanker attacks, official says
Reuters said:WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran may have attacked four tankers off the United Arab Emirates rather than Iranian forces themselves, a U.S. official familiar with the latest U.S. assessments said on Tuesday.
The official said possible perpetrators might include Houthi rebels in Yemen and Iran-backed Shi’ite militias based in Iraq but said Washington did not have hard evidence on who sabotaged the four vessels, including two Saudi tankers on Sunday near Fujairah port, which lies just outside the Strait of Hormuz.
Saudi Arabia said armed drones hit two oil pumping stations in the kingdom on Tuesday in what it called a “cowardly” act of terrorism.
A fifth of global oil consumption passes through the Strait of Hormuz from Middle East crude producers to major markets in Asia, Europe, North America and beyond. The narrow waterway separates Iran from the Arabian Peninsula.
On Monday, a U.S. official familiar with U.S. intelligence had said Iran was a leading candidate for having carried out attacks on the four tankers but that the United States did not have conclusive proof Tehran was behind them.
Iran has rejected the allegation and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Tuesday that “extremist individuals” in the U.S. government were pursuing dangerous policies, amid a war of words with Washington over sanctions.
The reported incident comes as the U.S. has warned ships that
US issues new warning to Gulf sailors after UAE says ships were sabotaged
Military Times said:FUJAIRAH, United Arab Emirates — Two Saudi oil tankers and a Norwegian-flagged vessel were damaged in what Gulf officials described Monday as a “sabotage” attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. While details of the incident remain unclear, it raised risks for shippers in a region vital to global energy supplies at a time of increasing tensions between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
The U.S. issued a new warning to sailors as the UAE’s regional allies condemned Sunday’s alleged attack that the UAE says targeted four ships off the coast of its port city of Fujairah.
It came just hours after Iranian and Lebanese media outlets aired false reports of explosions at the port.
While Gulf officials declined to say who they suspect may be responsible, the U.S. has warned ships that “Iran or its proxies” could be targeting maritime traffic in the region. America is deploying an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombersto the Persian Gulf to counter alleged, still-unspecified threats from Tehran.
The scale of the alleged sabotage also remains unclear. A statement from Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the kingdom’s two oil tankers, including one due to later carry crude to the U.S., sustained “significant damage.” However, a report from Sky News Arabia, a satellite channel owned by an Abu Dhabi ruling family member, showed the allegedly targeted Saudi tanker Al Marzoqah afloat without any apparent damage.
The MT Andrea Victory, another of the allegedly targeted ships, sustained a hole in its hull just above its waterline from "an unknown object," its owner Thome Ship Management said in a statement. Images Monday of the Andrea Victory, which the company said was "not in any danger of sinking," showed damage similar to what the firm described.
Emirati officials identified the third ship as the Saudi-flagged oil tanker Amjad. Ship-tracking data showed the vessel still anchored off Fujairah, apparently not in immediate distress. The fourth ship was the A. Michel, a bunkering tanker flagged in Sharjah, one of the UAE's seven emirates.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press that American naval investigators were assisting the Emiratis with their probe of the incident. The official was not authorized to discuss details of the assistance publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf and wider region from its base in Bahrain, declined to comment on the incident. The Navy runs a small supply operation out of the nearby Emirati naval base in Fujairah.
Authorities in Fujairah, also a UAE emirate, also declined to speak to the AP. Emirati officials stopped AP journalists from traveling by boat to see the ships.
However, the incident raises questions about maritime security in the UAE, home to Dubai's Jebel Ali port, the largest man-made deep-water harbor in the world that is also the U.S. Navy's busiest port of call outside of America. From the coast, AP journalists saw an Emirati coast guard vessel patrolling near the area of one of the Saudi ships in Fujairah, some 130 miles (210 kilometers) northeast of Dubai on the Gulf of Oman.
Fujairah also is about 140 kilometers (85 miles) south of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil at sea is traded. The alleged sabotage caused jitters in global oil markets, as benchmark Brent crude rose in trading to over $71.50 a barrel Monday, a change of 1.3%.
Al-Falih, the Saudi energy minister, said the attacks on the two Saudi tankers happened at 6 a.m. Sunday. He said "the attack didn't lead to any casualties or oil spill," though he acknowledge it affected "the security of oil supplies to consumers all over the world."
It is "the joint responsibility of the international community to protect the safety of maritime navigation and the security of oil tankers, to mitigate against the adverse consequences of such incidents on energy markets, and the danger they pose to the global economy," he said, according to the statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
The U.S. Energy Department later said it was "monitoring the oil markets, and is confident they remain well-supplied."
Shortly after the Saudi announcement, Iran's Foreign Ministry called for further clarification about what exactly happened with the vessels. The ministry' spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying there should be more information about the incident.
Mousavi also warned against any "conspiracy orchestrated by ill-wishers" and "adventurism by foreigners" to undermine the maritime region's stability and security. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are staunch opponents of Iran's government.
Tensions have risen since President Donald Trump withdrew America from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and restored U.S. sanctions that have pushed Iran's economy into crisis. Last week, Iran warned it would begin enriching uranium at higher levels in 60 days if world powers failed to negotiate new terms for the deal.
European Union officials met Monday in Brussels to thrash out ways to keep the Iran nuclear deal afloat. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had traveled there for talks.
"We're not going to miscalculate. Our aim is not war," Pompeo told CNBC in an interview. "Our aim is a change in the behavior of the Iranian leadership."
Underling the regional risk, the general-secretary of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council described the incident as a "serious escalation."
"Such irresponsible acts will increase tension and conflicts in the region and expose its peoples to great danger," Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani said. Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen's internationally recognized government similarly condemned the alleged sabotage, as did the Arab League.
The U.S. Maritime Administration, a division of the U.S. Transportation Department, warned Thursday that "Iran and/or its regional proxies" could target commercial sea traffic.
The agency issued a new warning Sunday to sailors about the alleged sabotage and urged shippers to exercise caution in the area for the next week.
It remains unclear if the previous warning from the U.S. Maritime Administration is the same perceived threat that prompted the White House on May 4 to order the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and the B-52 bombers to the region. In a statement then, national security adviser John Bolton had warned Iran that "that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force."
Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai, Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, Malak Harb in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed.
Aramco oil stations targeted as Houthi-run media says military operation a response to 'continued aggression'.
Saudi Arabia says oil stations attacked by armed drones
Aramco oil stations targeted as Houthi-run media says military operation a response to 'continued aggression'.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________Al Jazeera said:Armed drones attacked two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in what Riyadh called a "cowardly" act by Yemen's Houthi rebels, two days after Saudi oil tankers were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
The drone strikes caused minor damage to one of the stations supplying a pipeline running from its oil-rich Eastern Province to the Yanbu Port on the Red Sea, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
"These attacks prove again that it is important for us to face terrorist entities, including the Houthi militias in Yemen that are backed by Iran," Falih said.
A fire that broke out was later brought under control, but the country's state-run oil giant Aramco stopped pumping oil through the pipeline.
Falih called the attack "cowardly", saying recent sabotage acts against its vital installations not only target Saudi Arabia but the safety of the world's energy supply and global economy.
He also promised the production and export of Saudi oil would not be interrupted.
Oil prices rose on news of the attacks on the stations, 320km west of the capital Riyadh. Brent was trading at about $71 up 1.2 percent.
Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said seven drones carried out the strikes on the Saudi oil installations.
"It was a successful operation. We found assistance from people living in Saudi Arabia, and we had excellent intelligence," Saree said.
Andreas Krieg from King's College London said the drone strikes show the Houthis are now capable of attacking far into Saudi territory. He called the incident "very significant" because the target was oil production.
"The Houthi capability has increased massively in recent years, some of it homegrown but [the attack] definitely suggests that the Iranians have helped out," Krieg told Al Jazeera. "They've never been able to deeply penetrate Saudi Arabia… It looks like they are targeting the oil infrastructure."
'Worrisome and dreadful'
Earlier on Tuesday, a television station run by Yemen's Houthi rebels said it launched drone attacks on Saudi installations, without identifying the targets or time of the attacks.
Tuesday's incident comes a day after Riyadh said two of its oil tankers were among four vessels attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday.
The attacks also occurred amid a war of words between the United States and Iran over sanctions and the growing American military presence in the Gulf.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Tuesday neither the United States nor Iran want war, adding Iraq is in contact with both, state news agency INA reported.
Iran was a prime suspect in Sunday's sabotage off the UAE although Washington had no conclusive proof, an unnamed US official familiar with American intelligence told Reuters news agency on Monday.
Tehran denied involvement and described the attack on the four commercial vessels as "worrisome and dreadful". It called for an investigation.
The Houthis have repeatedly launched drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia and claimed to have launched strikes on the UAE.
"This large military operation is in response to the continued aggression and blockade of our people and we are prepared to carry out more unique and harsh strikes," Al Masirah cited one Houthi official as saying.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading the Western-backed alliance that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthis in an attempt to restore the internationally recognised government.
Yemen President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi's government was ousted from power in the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.
The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis deny being puppets of Iran and say their revolution is against corruption.
Yemen's conflict has killed tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians.
The fighting has triggered what the UN describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis with 24.1 million people - more than two-thirds of the population - in need of aid.
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