US reveals: Over 3,000 Iranian troops in Syria, Iraq
The top US military officer revealed on Tuesday that the Iranian regime has deployed 2,000 soldiers in Syria to prop up Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and another 1,000 or more in Iraq.
The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, made the revelation while saying Iran has increased and decreased its ground force over time, reports Reuters.
“I think there’s more than 1,000 that are on the ground in Iraq. In Syria, we think the numbers are probably something less than 2,000,” said Dunford of Iranian troop deployment.
Iran just this month denied it has troops on the ground in Syria, even though the past two weeks have seen the deaths of one of Iran’s best known generals, Hossein Hamedani, two colonels and at least nine other members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), all in Syria.
In what could be a sign of Iran’s increased military presence in Syria echoing a similar Russian buildup, Iran’s top military commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, was spotted in Syria two weeks ago addressing Iranian military officers and members of the Iran-proxy Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.
Soleimani, who is listed as a terrorist by the United States, is one of several Iranian officials targeted by a 2007 United Nations travel ban because of their alleged links to Iran’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs, but the sanctions against him are due to be lifted in the Iran nuclear deal.
US eyes “direct action on the ground”
For its part, the US on Tuesday announced it will be stepping up its campaign against Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced the escalation, hinting at additional air strikes and possible direct action on the ground.
“We won’t hold back from supporting capable partners in opportunistic attacks against ISIL, or conducting such missions directly, whether by strikes from the air or direct action on the ground,” Carter told the Senate Armed ServicesCommittee, using an alternate acronym for the jihadist group.
He did not elaborate on what he meant by “direct action on the ground,” in an odd choice of words given the Obama administration’s stated opposition to committing US ground forces to Syria.
Carter said the United States would focus its efforts on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa in northern Syria and boost support for rebel groups fighting the jihadists.
“We expect to intensify our air campaign, including with additional US and coalition aircraft, to target ISIL with a higher and heavier rate of strikes,” Carter said. “This will include more strikes against ISIL high-value targets as our intelligence improves.”
Carter’s pledge to intensify strikes comes as the US-led coalition has in fact been striking fewer targets in Syria in recent months. Pentagon officials insist the diminished tempo reflects a lack of decent targets, and has nothing to do with Russia launching its own bombing campaign a month ago.
While the new announcement may signify a new direction in the campaign, US President Barack Obama has received a great deal of flak for his management of the strikes against ISIS.
That criticism rose further back in June, when Obama admitted he doesn’t have “a complete strategy” to fight ISIS.