American forces suffered 78 Iranian attacks since 2021: US general

The US has only responded three times, according to CENTCOM, which raises a question of deterrence.

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The top US military general for the Middle East revealed Thursday that his forces had come under Iranian attack 78 times since January 2021.

Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, Gen. Erik Kurilla said the US Central Command’s [CENTCOM] priorities were to deter Iran, counter violent extremist groups and compete strategically with China and Russia.

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He added that Iran remained the primary destabilizing element in the region and warned that the Iran of 2023 “is not the Iran of 1983.”

CENTCOM was formed 40 years ago to counter the influence of the Iranian regime after it seized power in Tehran and to compete strategically with what was then the Soviet Union.

Gen. Kurilla also cautioned lawmakers that Iran had become “exponentially” more militarily capable than it was five years ago. He pointed to Iran as having the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East, with thousands of ballistic and cruise missiles.

According to the US general, Tehran also has the region’s largest and most capable drone force.

As Iran cultivates its ties and forms proxy groups across the Middle East, US interests continue to be threatened. Iran and Iran-backed groups have launched numerous attacks against American forces and interest in the CENTCOM area of responsibility.

For the first time, the military publicly disclosed the frequency of these attacks. Gen. Kurilla told lawmakers that the number of attacks since January 1, 2021, was “about 78 times.”

“What Iran does to hide its hand is they use Iranian proxies - that’s either UAVs or rockets to be able to attack our forces in Iraq or Syria,” he said. Asked if these were considered acts of war, Gen. Kurilla responded: “They are being done by the Iranian proxies.”

But the US has only responded three times, something which has not been reported before. “We have responded kinetically to three of those strikes. We also maintain non-kinetic options,” CENTCOM Spokesman Col. Joe Buccino told Al Arabiya English in an e-mailed statement.

Lawmakers and analysts have interpreted the US response in different ways.

Bilal Saab, Director of the Defense and Security Program at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, said CENTCOM “is extra sensitive to the policy set up by the administration, which constrains its freedom of action.”

However, he added, there are ways the US has responded and continues to do so via cyber, covert and other methods. “Those things are happening, but are they contributing to deterrence? I’m not so sure,” Saab said.

This comes as the administration has made clear its intention to shift focus from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific while grappling with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Earlier Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon plans to send older attack jets to the Middle East to free up space for more advanced fighter jets to go to Asia and Europe.

Kurilla was asked about the A-10s during Thursday’s hearing, where he said he had a “requirement for additional air assets.”

Al Arabiya English has reached out to the White House for comment.

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