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Top Pentagon Officials Testify On Syria and Iran

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, testify to a House committee hearing on U.S. policy in Syria, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

U.S. Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley testified about the Department of Defense activities in Syria and the Middle East.

While the hearing chaired by Representative Adam Hill closely focused on the recent pullout of U.S. troops from Syria and the Turkish incursion, questions about the DoD’s activities about Iran were also raised.

In response to threats emanating from Iran the Secretary of defense Esper testified in his opening statement that “since May of this year nearly 14,000 U.S. military personnel have deployed to the region to serve as a tangible commitment to our allies and our partners.”

Saudi Arabia has blamed Iran for the September 14 attack on ARAMCO’s oil facilities in Khurais and Abqaiq. There has also been a string of attacks on ships in the Persian Gulf directly tied to Iran this year. Iran also shot down a U.S. drone during the increase in tension in July.

The Defense Secretary also noted in his opening statement that “Iran should not mistake U.S. restraint for unwillingness to respond with decisive military force should our forces or interests be attacked.”

Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley clarified how the military plans to deal with any dangers posed by Iran, saying “we will maintain the strategic depth of the joint force in the region in order to deter Iran and assure our partners and if necessary, respond if deterrence fails.”

U.S. Representative Jim Langevin (D) asked about intelligence reports of Iran’s activities in next six months. The Defense Secretary Mark Esper talked about impact of the recent Iran protests saying that “we see a lot of the regime under stress right now.”

The Nebraska Representative Don Bacon (R) questioned the policy of restraint that U.S. was showing in the face of Iran’s aggression in the Persian Gulf asking, “at what point will they interpret this as weakness?”

The Chairman of the Joints Chiefs General Milley responded by saying that “we are in a very heightened risk with respect to Iran.” Adding that “I would caution Iran publicly to be very very cautious on how they proceed.”

The Republican U.S. representative for Nebraska Dough Lamborn pointed out that Iran virtually controls four Arab capitals in the middle east. His main concerns were what the United States was doing about Iran’s influence in Syria.

The defense secretary pointed out that although Iran has significant influence in Syria the U.S. administration’s “maximum pressure campaign effected their ability to pay and do some of those things.”

Massachusetts Democrat Moulton engaged in a testy exchange with the Defense Secretary on the wisdom of withdrawing from Iran nuclear deal. The representative pointed out that IAEA inspections have revlead that Iran has increased uranium enrichment along with attacks by Iranian proxies on U.S. forces in Iraq.

Mark Esper highlighted the “maximum pressure campaign” and suggested that the current strategy will take a longer time to play out.