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U.S. Actions Deterred Attacks on Americans in Iraq, Shanahan Says

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Aboard a military aircraft bound for multinational talks in Asia, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan was pressed for answers on tensions in Iran by reporters traveling with him.

Noting that May has been "a pretty tense month," the acting secretary explained that the Defense Department operates in a high-risk environment and gets intelligence consistently that speaks to the threats in the region. 

"This [incident] was an anomaly, and I think you saw the response in which how quickly we responded when sending the carrier strike group and the B-52s is really reflective of our confidence in the intelligence," Shanahan told reporters. 

Aircraft carrier moves through the water.
Ship Support
The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis steams into the Strait of Hormuz, April 7, 2019. The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the region connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Connor D. Loessin
VIRIN: 190407-N-YW238-0017C

"It was so credible that we moved back quickly [in] a matter of hours. … It deterred attacks on our people in Iraq," he said. It's important to emphasize there was not an attack, he added.

"Since that time, we've had additional intelligence, which is the normal part of operating in Iraq and in the region," he said. "And there are ongoing conversations between the [U.S.] leadership in country."

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan speaks to reporters.
Press Briefing
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan speaks to reporters en route to Indonesia, May 28, 2019.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 190528-D-BN624-0351

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is looking at the resources in the world that are available to shift, Shanahan noted. "And so [the chairman] brought to me a recommendation and he said, 'Look, we want to increase the force protection,'" he said.

To do that, Shanahan said, the United States wants to be more conservative in four areas: increased intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; increased air support in the event of an attack; increased missile defense; and an engineering battalion to harden facilities.

However, Shanahan said he has not seen a change in Iran's behavior, and the situation remains tense. "The Iranian threat to our forces in the region remains," he said.

Acting defense secretary conducts news conference aboard an airplane.
News Conference
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan speaks with reporters aboard a government aircraft en route to Indonesia, May 28, 2019.
Photo By: Lisa Ferdinando, DOD
VIRIN: 190528-D-BN624-0369C

What's key is how the United States de-escalates the situation, how the nation addresses Iranian proxies and the terrorism that goes on in the Middle East, and even more broadly, the prevention of nuclear weapons in Iran, he said. 

The focus on force protection stems from Iranian activity in the region around its proxies, disruption in the Strait of Hormuz, and Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear programs, Shanahan said.

"Those are the basis for the pressure campaign," he said. "The response we've taken is a threat to the flow of energy and a threat to our men and women and our interests there in the region."

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