BAGHDAD, Iraq (NBC) – The State Department has ordered all non-emergency employees and families to leave Iraq, amid escalating tensions with Iran.
U.S. officials tell NBC news the Pentagon has drawn up contingency plans that include sending up to 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East, if Iran attacks American forces or accelerates work on its nuclear program.
The story first was reported by the New York Times. President Trump dismissed it, saying, “fake news okay? Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully, we’re not gonna have to plan for that. And if we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
A short time after that, Iran’s supreme leader seemed to respond in kind, saying, “we don’t seek a war” with the United States. But risks remain.
The U.S. accelerated the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf this month, to counter what U.S. officials described, without providing specifics, as threats from Iran or its proxies against U.S. forces.
And this weekend, there was a mysterious apparent attack on four tankers in the Persian Gulf, two owned by Iran’s enemy, Saudi Arabia.
Iran denies responsibility.
And then overnight, CENTCOM announced that thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria have been put on high alert against what it called “credible threat”’ from Iran or their allies.
In Syria, where some 2000 U.S. troops helped defeat ISIS, Iran has military advisors and the support of Hezbollah, a battle-hardened militia.
In Iraq, U.S. troops may be even more exposed. Iranian-backed militias are widespread, including within the Iraqi security forces.
Wednesday morning, the U.S. State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate in Irbil, as tensions with Iran continue to grow.