Iran and its proxy forces have launched 83 attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria since President Joe Biden took office, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told lawmakers on Tuesday.
In response to those attacks, the U.S. military has launched four major operations against Iranian-backed groups, Austin said during a tense exchange with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill.
“So, what kind of a signal do we think this sends to Iran when they can attack us 83 times since Joe Biden has become president and we only respond [with] four [operations],” Cotton asked Austin rhetorically. “Maybe it’s because they know that we will not retaliate until they kill an American, which emboldens them to keep launching these attacks, which kill Americans.”
Neither U.S. Central Command nor Operation Inherent Resolve – the U.S.military command for troops in Iraq and Syria – were able to provide any information on Tuesday about how often Iranian proxies attacked U.S. troops in the Middle East during previous administrations, or whether attacks by Iranian-backed groups against U.S. troops in the Middle East had increased, decreased, or stayed the same since Biden became president.
When asked if the four U.S. operations launched during the Biden administration in response to Iranian attacks were directed against Iran or its proxy forces outside of the country, Austin said that the most recent U.S. military airstrikes in Syria targeted infrastructure belonging Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s Quds Force, an elite group that carries out clandestine operations in foreign countries.