The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad was never in danger of being overrun and any attempt by Iran-backed militias to occupy it would "run into a buzzsaw" of fire from U.S. defenders, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Thursday.
"We are very confident that the integrity of that embassy is strong and it is highly unlikely to be physically overrun by anyone," Milley said at a Pentagon briefing with Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
The Tuesday demonstrations, in which members of the Iranian-backed Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH) militia threw gasoline bombs and battered the embassy's perimeter in the highly restricted "Green Zone" were "as much for the cameras as anything else" in an attempt "to get attention, which they did," Milley said.
He warned KH not to test U.S. resolve to defend the $750 million embassy.
"There is sufficient combat power there, air and ground, that anyone who attempts to overrun that will run into a buzzsaw," Milley said.
"The temperature has greatly improved in the last 24 hours," Esper said, as demonstrators withdrew from the Green Zone are.
However, Esper said that KH could be expected to carry out additional attacks on U.S. locations in Iraq, following at least 11 rocket attacks on U.S. bases in recent months, and the U.S. was prepared to act preemptively to thwart them.
The latest attack, on a U.S. base near central Kirkuk Dec. 27, killed an American contractor and wounded four U.S. troops, prompting U.S. airstrikes Sunday on three KH bases in Iraq and two in Syria.
"Do I think they may do something? Yes," Esper said of the potential for more provocations by KH, but added that "they will regret it."
He said there were "some indications out there they may be planning additional attacks. That's nothing new. So if that happens, we will act," Esper said, and "If we get word" from intelligence, "we will take preemptive action as well."
In response to the embassy demonstrations, about 100 Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response-Central Command boarded MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in Kuwait Tuesday and flew to Baghdad's Green Zone to bolster embassy security.
Wednesday morning, paratroopers from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina began boarding C-17 Globemaster aircraft as the first contingents of a battalion of 750 Esper has ordered to the region to boost the readiness of U.S. Mideast forces.
Milley confirmed that the 82nd Division troops would be based Kuwait and be prepared for "follow-on missions in other places."
Additional forces in the U.S. have been alerted for possible rapid response, but Esper said "we haven't yet decided to deploy them. So far, it's just one battalion," he said.
Both Esper and Milley said the Iraqi government had to do more to prevent attacks on U.S. positions and rein in pro-Iranian militias.
Esper acknowledged that the struggling Baghdad government under caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who announced his resignation in early December, was "in a lot of turmoil" following months of protests against corruption and the failing economy but "they need to get left of the problem."
Milley said the Iraqi military "has a lot of capability" to increase security nationwide, and it was a "question of will" as to whether they would use it.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.