The US is moving air defense systems into Iraq to defend against ballistic missile and drone threats, the head of US Central Command said Tuesday. When Iran bombarded two US bases earlier this year, there were no anti-air defenses to halt the attack, and dozens of US troops were injured. However, Baghdad has made clear it wants US forces out.
Two months after 16 Iranian ballistic missiles struck the US’ Ayn al-Asad Air Base in Western Iraq, the US is finally preparing to move air defense systems into the country. The redeployment has required careful negotiation with Baghdad, as the Iraqi parliament voted in January for a resolution that US troops should leave the country.
‘Growing Threat’ From Iran
“Since May 2019, Iranian proxies and Shiite militia groups in Iraq have increased attacks on US interests and conducted scores of unmanned aerial system reconnaissance flights near US and Iraqi security force bases,” Marine Corps General and head of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) Kenneth McKenzie told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
“We are in the process of bringing air defense systems, ballistic missile defense systems into Iraq – particularly to protect ourselves against another potential Iranian attack,” he added, noting also a “growing threat posed by unmanned aerial systems, coupled with our lack of dependable, networked capabilities to counter them.”
The general told US lawmakers that Iranian drone capabilities are the region’s “most concerning tactical development,” reiterating Washington’s position that the September 2019 attacks on two Saudi oil facilities were carried out by Iran, despite the Yemeni Houthi movement claiming responsibility for the attack.
McKenzie provided no further details on the transfer of air defense systems, such as a timeline or even which kind of systems are being sent to Iraq.
Two of the most likely systems are the infamous MIM-104 Patriot, which once shot down Iraqi SCUD missiles during the 1991 Gulf War, or the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which has been deployed in South Korea as a bulwark against potential North Korean missile attack.