Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie attends a meeting. File photo
The exchange of missile strikes by Iran and Israel in Iraq and Syria puts US forces at risk, the top US commander for the Middle East said on Friday, just days after an Iranian missile barrage struck near the US consulate complex in northern Iraq.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie told Pentagon reporters that over the past six months Iran has attacked US forces and facilities a number of times, but "very good action on the part of commanders on the ground” has thwarted any US casualties.
"Had US casualties occurred, I think we might be in a very different place right now,” said McKenzie.
McKenzie and other US officials said this week the missile strikes on Sunday that hit close to the consulate were not aimed at the US And Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard said on its website that it had attacked what it described as an Israeli spy centre in Irbil.
US troops at a base in Irbil, Iraq. File photo
US and Israeli officials declined to publicly comment or describe the target. But the attack came several days after Iran said it would retaliate for an Israeli strike near Damascus, Syria, that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard.
"I think it’s obvious that Israel is going to take steps to defend itself when it’s confronted with with Iranian actions. And of course, Iran is dedicated to the destruction of Israel,” McKenzie said Friday. "I do worry about these exchanges between Iran and Israel, because many times our forces are at risk, whether in Iraq or in Syria. So that, in fact, does concern me.”
McKenzie, who is retiring after about three years as head of US Central Command, was speaking at what was expected to be his final press briefing. He said that as he prepares to turn over the job to incoming Army Gen. Erik Kurilla, his message to his successor is that Iran continues to be his biggest challenge.
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