A rapid escalation in Iran-backed militant attacks on U.S. and coalition bases in Iraq and Syria has hamstrung the Pentagon’s task of suppressing Islamic State(ISIS) activity in the region, according to a watchdog report released Friday.
Between October and December 2023, Iran-backed militants conducted suicide drone, rocket and missile attacks against U.S. bases at least 134 times linked to the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, according to the latest quarterly report from the inspector general(IG) for Operation Inherent Resolve. Forces with the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF-OIR) said that U.S. forces have hunkered down in response to the attacks while “militias sought to exert pressure on U.S. and Coalition forces as tension rose in the region.”
Attacks on Iraq and Syria created a “more challenging operational environment” for the U.S. military’s mission, CJTF-OIR told the IG.
“Coalition forces have had to balance addressing immediate regional security challenges with continuing to strengthen local partner capacities in the long run.68 CJTF-OIR said that changes due to the ‘new operating paradigm’ are primarily aimed at ensuring the safety and security of Coalition forces and maintaining stability in the region,” the report read.
In response to the militia attacks, protective measures around bases have been upgraded and the roles and locations of personnel changed, the task force told the IG.
In October, just days after the first attack, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had ordered 2,000 additional U.S. troops to be ready to deploy to the Middle East if needed. The task force also said an unspecified number of additional troops received prepare-to-deploy orders.
The increased attacks have consumed resources and troops who would otherwise be assisting regional partners in combating ISIS, according to the report.
“In addition, increased attacks have diverted resources and attention from pursuing the OIR campaign and hindered momentum, CJTF-OIR said.70 Resources and capacity that would typically be devoted to providing equipment, supplies, and advisory support to its partners have been diverted towards addressing immediate threats.71 Key leader engagements have been cancelled or delayed,” the report read, again citing CJTF-OIR.
The task force reiterated that it remained committed to the counter-ISIS mission.
Escalated hostilities with Iran-backed militias, some of which are connected to the Iraqi government, also increased tension with Iraq’s prime minister. He threatened to oust U.S. troops for good after the Pentagon carried out a targeted assassination of a militant leader in Baghdad.
During the quarter, the U.S. and coalition forces still captured 64 ISIS militants between September and November and killed four, according to the report. December statistics were not available.
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