The US has expressed its concern over Iran’s inventory of 2,500-3,000 ballistic missiles as coronavirus outbreak makes Tehran more dangerous, US CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth McKenzie.
McKenzie told the Senate Armed Services Committee on 10 March that most of the missiles are shorter-range weapons and announced that the military was now moving more assets to Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB) in central Saudi Arabia. The base is 580 km from the Iranian mainland and is defended by at least one Patriot air defence battery.
The outbreak of the coronavirus in Iran has put pressures on the government to make it more of a military threat to the US through its proxy forces in the Middle East, said the General.
Iranian government is under pressure because of lower oil prices and the spread of the covid-19 virus that has killed over 400 people, including some of the nation’s leaders. Indeed, Iran’s ability to import medical supplies and food has been severely curtailed as a result of its exclusion from the US sanctions.
“The beauty of that base is it is out of [the] short-range ballistic missile range of Iran but close enough for our various types of fighter attack aircraft to operate out of there. It is well defended and provides significant additional depth in theatre,” McKenzie said.
“I think it probably makes them in terms of decision-making more dangerous rather than less dangerous,” he said.
Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) attacked US Ain al-Asad Air Base on January in retaliation for the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani, a high-profile IRGC commander who developed and directed pro-Iranian militant groups across the region.
The US has around 5,000 soldiers deployed in Iraq. While no US soldier was killed and confrontation de-escalated, it emerged that about 100 US military personnel suffered traumatic brain injuries.
McKenzie announced that the US military had established a “rough deterrence” with Iran since the attack.
“There weren’t many forces in theatre and the fact that the force density was so low was a major part of the Iranian calculus to act out in the kinetic sphere,” McKenzie said.