Iraqi security sources say new US troops have been deployed to Ain al-Asad in the western Iraqi province of Anbar amid reports that the Pentagon is preparing for a new escalation.
Arabic-language Almaalomah news agency cited a security source as saying Sunday that planes carrying American soldiers and military advisers had landed at the base.
The reported deployment comes after the New York Times said last week that the Pentagon had ordered military commanders to plan for an escalation of American combat in Iraq.
Several American officials told the paper that the Pentagon had ordered planners at the Central Command and in Iraq to draw up a strategy to dismantle Kata’ib Hezbollah, which is part of the anti-terror Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) or Hashd al-Sha’abi.
The US has time and again targeted PMU’s positions, blaming the major anti-terror force for rocket attacks which the popular group has strongly denied.
On Sunday, Almaalomah quoted Qusay al-Anbari, a high-ranking member of Hashd al-Shaabi forces, as saying that US troops had evacuated some “unnecessary units” in Anbar and Kirkuk to avoid reprisal by resistance fighters.
The American forces, he said, have in fact not withdrawn from the military bases in the two provinces and instead relocated to Ain al-Asad and Qaim bases.
According to al-Anbari, US troops have deployed Patriot missiles in Ain al-Asad in order to “provide security cover for its forces”.
Ain al-Asad base was hit by Iranian missiles in January in retaliation for the US assassination of top anti-terror commander, Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
The New York Times reported on Friday that US army lieutenant general Robert P. White had warned about the costs and risks of a new escalation, saying it could be “bloody and counterproductive”.
General White had cautioned that a new military action would require thousands more American troops be deployed to Iraq and divert resources from existing missions there, it said.
Washington has blamed Kata’ib Hezbollah for about a dozen rocket attacks against American troops based in Iraq over the past few months.
The US has also conducted a string of deadly airstrikes on Iraqi military bases, which Baghdad has denounced as a violation of its sovereignty, and aggression against its official armed forces.
Last week, Kata’ib Hezbollah held a military drill, dubbed Hunting the Crow, in the town of Jurf al-Nasr near Baghdad, to prepare itself for battling occupying US troops after suspicious American activities.
Kata’ib spokesman Jaafar al-Husseini said sophisticated weapons with live ammunition were used in the exercises, which simulated a number of engagement patterns, including confronting airstrikes and land exposure, and fighting in a forest environment.
The Pentagon’s redeployment flies in the face of the Iraqi parliament which obliged the government in January to end the presence of all foreign troops, including some 5,200 American forces, in the Arab country.