TRUMP DE­NIES TROOP PLANS

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY ROBERT BURNS AND LOLITA C. BAL­DOR

U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand con­tra­dicts a gen­eral, says that there are “cred­i­ble threats” from Iran-backed forces.

WASH­ING­TON

In­ter­na­tional wor­ries that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is slid­ing to­ward war with Iran flared into the open Tues­day amid skep­ti­cism about its claims that the Is­lamic Repub­lic poses a grow­ing threat to the U.S. and its al­lies in the Per­sian Gulf and be­yond .

The U.S. mil­i­tary re­but­ted doubts ex­pressed by a Bri­tish gen­eral about such a threat. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­nied a re­port that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has up­dated plans to send more than 100,000 troops to counter Iran if nec­es­sary. But Trump then stirred the con­tro­versy fur­ther by say­ing, “Would I do that? Ab­so­lutely.”

The gen­eral’s re­marks ex­posed in­ter­na­tional skep­ti­cism over the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary build-up in the Mid­dle East, a legacy of the 2003 in­va­sion of Iraq that was pred­i­cated on false in­tel­li­gence. U.S. of­fi­cials have not pub­licly pro­vided any ev­i­dence to back up claims of an in­creased Ira­nian threat amid other signs of al­lied un­ease.

As ten­sions in the re­gion started to surge, Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt said his na­tion was wor­ried about the risk of ac­ci­den­tal con­flict “with an es­ca­la­tion that is un­in­tended re­ally on ei­ther side.” Then on Tues­day, Spain tem­po­rar­ily pulled one of its frigates from the U.S.-led com­bat fleet head­ing to­ward the Strait of Hor­muz. That was fol­lowed by the un­usual pub­lic chal­lenge to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion by the gen­eral.

“No, there’s been no in­creased threat from Ira­nian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria,” said Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika, a se­nior of­fi­cer in the U.S.-backed coali­tion fight­ing the Is­lamic State group. Ghika, speak­ing in a video con­fer­ence from coali­tion head­quar­ters in Bagh­dad, told re­porters at the Pen­tagon that the coali­tion mon­i­tors the pres­ence of Ira­nian-backed forces “along with a whole range of others be­cause that’s the en­vi­ron­ment we’re in.”

But he added, “There are a sub­stan­tial num­ber of mili­tia groups in Iraq and Syria, and we don’t see any in­creased threat from any of them at this stage.”

Late in the day, in a rare pub­lic re­but­tal of an al­lied mil­i­tary of­fi­cer, U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand said Ghika’s re­marks “run counter to the iden­ti­fied cred­i­ble threats” from Ira­ni­an­backed forces in the Mideast. In a writ­ten state­ment, Cen­tral Com­mand said the coali­tion in Bagh­dad has in­creased the alert level for all ser­vice mem­bers in Iraq and Syria.

“As a re­sult, (the coali­tion) 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,” the state­ment said.

At the White House, Trump, who has re­peat­edly ar­gued for avoid­ing long-term con­flicts in the Mideast, dis­counted a New York Times re­port that the U.S. has up­dated plans that could send up to 120,000 troops to counter Iran if it attacked Amer­i­can forces.

“Would I do that? Ab­so­lutely,” he told re­porters. “But we have not planned for that. Hope­fully we’re not go­ing to have to plan for that. If we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”

Re­in­forc­ing Trump’s de­nial, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo said at a joint news con­fer­ence in Sochi with Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov, “We fun­da­men­tally do not seek war with Iran.”

The U.S. has about 5,000 troops in Iraq and about 2,000 in Syria as part of the coali­tion cam­paign to de­feat the Is­lamic State.

AP

Ira­nian Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei on Tues­day said his coun­try won’t ne­go­ti­ate with the United States and there will be no war be­tween the two coun­tries.

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