Marine General Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, warned troops deployed as part of a recent surge that he was “not sure how long you’re going to stay” in the region.
“You’re here because I requested that you come,” McKenzie said to sailors and Marines aboard the USS Bataan amphibious assault ship, according to the Associated Press. “I’m not sure how long you’re going to stay in the theater. We’ll work that out as we go ahead. Could be quite a while, could be less than that, just don’t know right now.”
McKenzie was addressing a small contingent of the 20,000 troops who have been deployed to the Middle East in the last eight months due to escalating tensions with Iran.
The general told reporters that while Iran is “deterred right now, the nation “continues to pose a very real threat” to U.S. forces and interests. Iran said that they “did not intend to kill” American troops earlier this month, following a retaliatory rocket attack on U.S. military bases in Iraq.
“Iran is very hard to read,” McKenzie said. “So I would say the fact that things are quiet for a while does not mean that necessarily things are getting better.”
The U.S. caused waves on January 6 following the leak of a draft letter to Iraq’s Ministry of Defense that implied U.S.-led coalition forces were planning to withdraw from the country, only for Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley to then say the letter was a “mistake.”
The State Department then confirmed that U.S. forces would stay in Iraq after Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to withdraw U.S. forces from the country.
“America is a force for good in the Middle East,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. “Any delegation sent to Iraq would be dedicated to discussing how to best recommit to our strategic partnership — not to discuss troop withdrawal, but our right, appropriate force posture in the Middle East.”