President Trump last week rejected an aggressive response to attacks by Iran-backed militias on U.S. forces in Iraq, because he thought an attack on Iranian forces would look bad while the country and the world are fighting the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, NBC reported on Thursday.
On March 11, Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah killed two American service members and a British military medic in a rocket attack on Camp Taji, an Iraqi military base. On Friday the U.S. responded with airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah positions, but on Saturday the militia responded with further rocket attacks on Camp Taji, seriously wounding three American troops and two Iraqi troops. The U.S. has not struck back since.
“We recognize that there’s an ongoing threat,” a senior Trump administration official told NBC. “We don’t always have to be counter-punching.”
Iran has the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East with 18,407 confirmed cases and 1,284 deaths according to the New York Times. However, U.S. officials believe the number may be much higher, and Iranian parliament members have accused the government of hiding the true extent of the crisis.
Tensions with Iran ratcheted up in early January after Trump ordered the killing of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport. Before the latest attacks on Americans by Kataib Hezbollah, the U.S. began removing a limited number of troops from the Middle East, deeming the threat from Iran reduced due to the spread of coronavirus in the country.