US deploys thousands more troops to Middle East after Trump-ordered airstrike kills Iran general

Troops bolster roughly 700 that were sent days earlier in response to US embassy attack in Iraq

Clark Mindock
New York
Friday 03 January 2020 18:58 GMT
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Who was powerful Iranian general Qassem Soleimani?

The United States is deploying nearly 3,000 more Army troops to the Middle East amid increased tensions between the US and Iran following the death of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

The thousands of troops come as the US awaits retaliation from Iran for the airstrike that killed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force leader, and as tens of thousands of anti-America demonstrators have taken to the streets in Iran to protest the loss of the general.

Prior to the airstrike at the Baghdad airport that left Soleimani dead, the US had deployed about 700 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne to Kuwait, after the US Embassy compound in the Iraqi capital was stormed by Iran-backed militiamen and their supporters. The thousands of additional troops are reportedly going to be deployed from the same division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, according to Defence Department officials who spoke to the Associated Press.

Shortly before ordering the troop deployment, Donald Trump justified the attack on Soleimani, saying that he had "killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time, and was plotting to kill many more."

It remains to be seen how Iran may respond to the killing, which targeted a well known and respected military leader in the country's most elite force. But, Iran state television has attacked the killing as "the biggest miscalculation by the US" since the Second World War. "The people of the region will no longer allow Americans to stay," the network said.

US Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division arrive at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, 2 January 2020
US Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division arrive at Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, 2 January 2020

"Harsh vengeance awaits the criminals that got his and other martyrs' blood on their evil hands in last night's incident," said Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.

US officials have provided disparate accounts of the threats that Americans now face in the region. The US State Department is urging Americans to leave Iraq as soon as possible, and has suspended consular operations in Baghdad amid the "heightened tensions in Iraq and the region".

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, has said that the attack on Soleimani has made Americans safer, in spite of that warning from his own department. Mr Pompeo has claimed that the strike was carried out after the US learned of a "imminent threat" to Americans.

"The world's a much safer place today, and I can assure you that Americans in the region are much safer today after the demise of Qasem Soleimani," Mr Pompeo said on Friday morning during an interview with CNN.

But that is far from the consensus among American allies abroad, and major military powers in the world.

UK foreign secretary has said Britain "recognised the aggressive threat" posed by the Iranian military leader, but cautioned that "further conflict is in none of our interests." Germany, meanwhile, has also expressed concern for ongoing conflict, but provided a qualified statement that the killing was "a reaction to a whole series of military provocations for which Iran bears responsibility," according to the Associated Press.

France, Russia and China — three permanent members of the UN security council alongside the US and UK — have all warned that the actions on Friday morning against Soleimani have made the world more dangerous.

“We are waking up in a more dangerous world. Military escalation is always dangerous,” Amelie de Montchalin, France’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, told RTL radio. “When such actions, such operations, take place, we see that escalation is under way.”

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