By Elizabeth McLaughlin January 3, 2020 ABC News podcast
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The Pentagon is deploying roughly 3,500 more troops to the Middle East in response to rising tensions in the region with Iran and one day after a U.S. airstrike killed a top Iranian military commander.
The soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division could leave Fort Bragg in North Carolina for the Middle East as early as this weekend, two U.S. officials told ABC News.MORE: US strike on Iran’s Soleimani ‘saved American lives,’ disrupted ‘imminent attack’: Pompeo
“The brigade will deploy to Kuwait as an appropriate and precautionary action in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, and will assist in reconstituting the reserve,” a Defense Department spokesperson said in a statement.
On Tuesday night, 750 soldiers from the same brigade — what the Pentagon calls the Immediate Response Force — were deployed to Kuwait following violent protests at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. About 100 Marines also arrived at the embassy to reinforce security there.
The decision to deploy additional American forces is partly in anticipation of a possible retaliatory attack by Iran or its proxies following a U.S. drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Quds Force, on Thursday.
A senior defense official told ABC News that elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team out of Vicenza, Italy have also been placed on alert status to possibly deploy to the Middle East if needed. It is likely those forces, which could range from between 100 and 750 in number, would go to protect the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.
Lebanon, in addition to Iraq and Syria, were locations Soleimani had recently visited and was planning attacks against U.S. interests, according to a U.S. official and a source familiar with the matter.
The deployment of American reinforcements to the Middle East is a direct response to the possibility that Iran could retaliate against American targets in the region because of Solemeini’s death..
Mick Mulroy, an ABC News contributor and until recently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy,
“There is a range of possible futures here, and the ball is in the Iranian court right now,” Milley said.
Mick Mulroy, an ABC News contributor and until recently the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy, said a worst-case scenario could involve an Iranian-directed “all-out assault on Israel” launched by Iranian proxies in Lebanon, possibly triggering a regional conflict.
There are also concerns that Iran’s Quds Force or its intelligence service could target U.S. assets beyond the Middle East.
“They could take this type of conflict to areas where we’re not as prepared as, say, Iraq, where we have, you know, 1,200 individuals guarding the embassy,” Mulroy continued. “We have embassies all around the world that don’t have that level of security.”
Mulroy said he believes it would be difficult for Iran not to retaliate.
“For them to be able to do something like that this time after losing somebody at the stature of Qassem Soleimani,” Mulroy added, “I don’t see that being something that they would be able to accept.”
ABC News’ Katherine Faulders and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.