Pompeo sees ‘real likelihood’ Iran will try to hit US troops

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on ‘Human Rights in Iran,’ at the State Department in Washington, DC. (AP)
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Updated 06 January 2020

Pompeo sees ‘real likelihood’ Iran will try to hit US troops

  • The US has about 60,000 troops in the region, including around 5,200 in Iraq

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that Iran will probably try to attack American troops after a US strike killed a top Iranian commander.

“We think there is a real likelihood Iran will make a mistake and make a decision to go after some of our forces, military forces in Iraq or soldiers in northeast Syria,” he told Fox News in remarks aired on Sunday.

His comments came as the military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader said there would be a “military” response “against military sites” by Tehran after the US killing of Qasem Soleimani, the powerful commander of Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of its Revolutionary Guards.

“It would be a big mistake for Iran to go after them,” Pompeo said.

The US has about 60,000 troops in the region, including around 5,200 in Iraq. Washington ordered thousands more soldiers to the Middle East on Friday after Soleimani’s killing.

“We’re preparing for all kinds of various responses,” including cyberattacks, Pompeo said.

The chief of the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah on Sunday also singled out the US army as a target for reprisals after the killing of Soleimani and a senior Iraqi commander.

“The American army killed them and it will pay the price,” said Hassan Nasrallah, who is based in Lebanon.

Outraged by the deadly American drone strike, Iraq’s parliament on Sunday urged the government to end the presence of US-led coalition forces in the country.

They have been there since 2014, when Baghdad invited them in to support local troops fighting the Daesh group.

The Iraqi Cabinet would have to approve any decision but the premier had earlier indicated support for a troop ouster.

“We’ll have to take a look at what we do when the Iraqi leadership and government makes a decision,” Pompeo told Fox when asked whether the US would leave Iraq if the government asks.

 

Pompeo speaking in an interview with CBS

US strategy 

Pompeo said the US strategy in countering Iran is to target the country’s “actual decision-makers” rather than to focus on Iranian proxy forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Pompeo was explaining US strategy in the aftermath of the US drone strike that killed Iran’s most powerful general, Qassem Soleimani, who was mastermind of the country’s military operations outside Iran. That killing has sent shock waves across the Middle East, with expectations that Iran will make good on its threat to strike back, with unpredictable consequences for the US and the rest of the world.

Pompeo spoke on ABC’s “This Week” amid rising uncertainty about next steps in the US-Iran crisis and the breadth of its ramifications. The US acknowledged an attack Sunday by an Al-Qaeda affiliate on a Kenyan airfield used by American military forces. It was not immediately clear whether there were US casualties.

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In Beirut, Lebanon’s Hezbollah chief, Hassan Nasrallah, said the US military in the region, including bases and warships, were fair targets after the killing of Soleimani. Hezbollah is a primary ally of Iran with broad influence. The US has tens of thousands of troops throughout the region, including in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar — all within range of Iran or its proxy militias.

Iraq’s parliament on Sunday called for the expulsion of US troops from the country in the wake of the attack in Baghdad that killed Soleimani. There are 5,200 American forces in Iraq. 

At issue is the fate of the agreement under which Washington sent troops to Iraq more than four years ago to help in the fight against the Daesh group.

Meantime, the US coalition combating Daesh in Iraq and Syria announced that it has “paused” training of Iraqi security forces in order to focus on protecting coalition personnel.

Pompeo strongly criticized the Iran policy of the Obama administration, saying it fruitlessly focused on Iranían proxies rather than on Iran itself.

He said the US had previously sought to “challenge and attack everybody who was running around with an AK-47 or a piece of indirect artillery. We’ve made a very different approach. We’ve told the Iranian regime, ‘Enough. You can’t get away with using proxy forces and think your homeland will be safe and secure.’ We’re going to respond against the actual decision-makers, the people who are causing this threat from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

In that context, Pompeo said that if the US military were to strike inside Iran, in the event Iran retaliated against America for the Soleimani killing, those strikes would be legal under the laws of armed conflict.

“We’ll behave inside the system,” Pompeo said. “We always have and we always will.”

Pompeo was responding to a question about President Donald Trump’s assertion Saturday on Twitter that the US has 52 Iranian targets in its sights, “some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture.”

Targeting cultural sites is a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention for the protection of cultural sites. The UN Security Council also passed unanimously a resolution in 2017 condemning the destruction of heritage sites. Attacks by Daesh and other armed factions in Syria and Iraq prompted that vote.

“Every target that we strike will be a lawful target, and it will be a target designed with a singular mission — defending and protecting America,” Pompeo said. He did not explicitly contradict Trump on targeting cultural sites. In insisting that any US attacks will be legal, Pompeo said Trump “was getting to this point” without making it in his tweet on Saturday.


Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

Updated 22 min 42 sec ago

Taliban rule out cease-fire until it is agreed in talks

  • President Ghani’s order to release 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners opens way for negotiations

KABUL: The Taliban have rejected calls for a truce before the long-awaited talks with the government get underway. They said that the possibility of a cease-fire could be debated only during the talks.

“When our prisoners are released, we will be ready for the talks,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, told Arab News on Tuesday.

“A cease-fire or reduction of violence can be among the items in the agenda of the talks,” he said.

This follows President Ashraf Ghani signing a decree for the release of 400 hardcore Taliban prisoners on Monday — who Kabul said were responsible for some of the worst attacks in the country in recent years — thereby removing the last obstacle to the start of the negotiations set by the Taliban.

However, Kabul has yet to announce the date of their release.

Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for the government-appointed peace council, said that Doha, Qatar, would be the likely venue.

“Deliberations are continuing, and no decision has been made on a firm date yet,” he said.

Ghani pledged to release the prisoners after the Loya Jirga, or traditional assembly, voiced support for their freedom.

After three days of deliberations the Jirga, which comprises 3,400 delegates, said that its decision was for the sake of “the cessation of bloodshed” and to remove “the obstacle to peace talks.”

After the Jirga’s announcement, Ghani said that “the ball was now in the Taliban’s court” and that they needed to enforce a nationwide cease-fire and begin talks to bring an end to more than 40 years of war, particularly the latest chapter in a conflict that started with the Taliban’s ousting from power in the US-led invasion in late 2001.

The exchange of prisoners between the government and the Taliban was part of a deal signed between the insurgent group and the US in Doha in February
this year.

The prisoner swap program — involving the release of 5,000 Taliban inmates in return for 1,000 security forces held by the group — was to be completed within 10 days in early March, followed by the crucial intra-Afghan talks.

February’s deal between the Taliban emissaries and US delegates, led by the US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, came after 18 months of intensive and secret talks, amid growing public frustration in the US about the Afghan war — America’s longest in history.

Ghani, whose government was sidelined from the February accord, initially voiced his opposition to freeing the Taliban inmates.

However, faced with increasing pressure from the US, Kabul began releasing 4,600 prisoners in a phased manner.

The intra-Afghan talks are also crucial for US President Donald Trump, who is standing for reelection in November and is keen to use the pull-out of forces and the start of negotiations as examples of his successful foreign policy. However, experts say the next stage will not be easy.

Analyst and former journalist Taj Mohammad told Arab News: “The talks will be a long, complicated process, with lots of ups and downs. It took 18 months for the Taliban and US to agree on two points; the withdrawal of all US troops and the Taliban pledging to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda. Now, imagine, how long it will take for the completion of a very complicated process of talks between Afghans who will debate women’s rights, minorities rights, election, Islamic values, … the form of government and so on.”

For some ordinary Afghans on the streets, however, the planned talks have revived hopes for peace and security and “are more needed in Afghanistan than in any other country.”

“I am more optimistic now than in the past. All sides have realized they cannot win by force and may have decided to rise to the occasion and come together,” Fateh Shah, a 45-year-old civil servant from Kabul, said.

Others spoke of their dreams to “go back home.”

“I have been away from my village for 19 years, and as soon as peace comes, we will pack up and go there,” said Rasool Dad, a 50-year-old porter who lives as a war-displaced person in Kabul, talking of his desire to return to his birthplace in southern Helmand province.

However, 30-year-old banker Sharif Amiri wasn’t very optimistic about the future.

“Even if the talks turn out to be successful, that will not mean an end to the war or the restoration of security. There are spoilers in the region, at home and at an international level who will try to sabotage peace here,” he said, hinting at rivalries among countries in the region, including major powers such as Russia, China and the US, who have used Afghanistan as a direct and indirect battleground for years.