Pentagon leadership on Thursday said Iranian-backed militias may be planning additional attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq, as the department is deploying additional forces to the region and warning that further attempts to occupy the American embassy in Baghdad would be akin to running into “a buzzsaw.” 

Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters he approved sending a battalion from the Army 82nd Airborne Division to bolster security efforts and prepare for potential preemptive actions, while a special-purpose task force of Marines has moved from Kuwait to specifically protect the embassy.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, hold a press briefing at the Pentagon on October 28, 2019. Photo: Matthew Beinart.

 “I’ve talked before about dynamic force employment. This is an example of dynamic force employment where we’re able to quickly deploy forces and use them as we need to and then re-deploy them. Because we have to get much more nimble operationally. This is a good opportunity for us to do that as well,” Esper said.

Esper was joined by Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who briefed reporters following a series of demonstrations by members of the Iranian-backed Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) militia outside the U.S. embassy. 

The protests followed an attack last Friday by the KH militia on a U.S. base near Kirkuk, Iraq which killed an American contractor.

“We know that the intent of this last attack was, in fact, to kill American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who were in the area, about 100 soldiers that were in that particular compound. Thirty-one rockets aren’t designed as a warning shot. That’s designed to inflict damage and kill,” Milley said. 

Milley noted that the rocket attack on the base is part of a sustained KH militia campaign, with a special-purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) now in place at the embassy to maintain equipment and security measures with the potential for additional attack. 

“We are very confident that the integrity of that embassy is strong and it is highly unlikely to be physically overwhelmed by anyone. There is sufficient combat power there, air and ground, that anyone that attempts to overrun that will run into a buzzsaw,” Milley said.

The MAGTF assigned to the embassy are utilizing MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, as well as unmanned aircraft and additional helicopters, according to Milley. 

AH-64 Apache helicopters were also used this week to protect the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, a spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve confirmed on Tuesday.

Esper said the 82nd Airborne Division battalion, a division ready force with an 18-hour readiness status, will provide the necessary quantity of personnel to assist with security measures in the region with the Marines now protecting the embassy.

“There are some indications out there that they may be planning additional attacks. That’s nothing new. We’ve seen this for two to three months now. If that happens, then we will act,” Esper said. “And, by the way, if we get word of attacks or some type of indication, we will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces and lives. The game has changed and we’re prepared to do what is necessary to protect our personnel, our interests and partners in the region.”