Militia groups continue to target U.S. troops in Iraq, eight months after the bombardment of rockets that killed an American contractor and wounded four American service members in Kirkuk.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, said bases in the region had incurred more indirect fire in “the first half of this year than we did the first half of last year,” he told NBC News while traveling in the Middle East.
He voiced relief that none of the attacks had been lethal, but cautioned “they are continuing.”
McKenzie’s statement comes just hours after his announcement that the U.S. would be trimming its occupation in Iraq by almost half by the end of September, with nearly 2,200 troops exiting the country.
A defense official said while the frequency of attacks has increased since 2019, the number of rockets in each strike has gradually become lower.
Attacks in 2019 saw dozens of rockets fired at U.S. forces at once, whereas attempts this year typically include only a few rockets.
Still, McKenzie said militia groups are not employing the entirety of their high-end weapons systems, stating their current artillery of 107 mm rockets and mortars are “not as sophisticated as some of their other weapon systems they have.”
He added that Iran’s primary goal is to force the U.S. out of the region, citing political avenues taken this year for Iran to influence the Iraqi government to remove American forces.
“Now Iran needs to decide, are they going to continue this political angle — which has not worked for them — or are they going to shift to other things and see how those things work?” McKenzie said. “Only time will tell, but we are prepared for that.”
He said the Iraqi government sees many benefits to maintaining long-term security partnerships with the U.S., NATO, and other coalition partners.
While McKenzie did not deny Iran could pursue future attempts to attack bases in Iraq, he said the U.S. military installed additional defensive capabilities such as the Patriot missile system if Iran were to take more aggressive action against remaining U.S. forces.