US Commanders Hype Iran Threats to Try to Avoid Troop Cuts

Commander in Afghanistan now sees growing Iran risk

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has made much of his vision for the US military posture overseas involving substantial buildups around China and Russia for great power competitions. This was understood to involve troop cuts at some of the existing US deployments.

That would hurt some existing commanders, costing them troops, funding, and general priority within the Pentagon. Esper isn’t the first one to imagine an Asia pivot, nor the first to see the plans foiled by other priorities.

On Thursday, AFRICOM commander Gen. Stephen Townsend fired the first shot against the pivot, claiming that Iran is plotting to attack Americans in Africa. Clearly, he’s arguing against losing troops right now, in the face of an Iran threat.

Gen. Frank McKenzie from CENTCOM followed through on Friday, saying that there is an increase in Iranian activity in Afghanistan, and that he’s “very concerned about that.”

Afghanistan and Africa clearly aren’t Iranian priorities by any stretch of the imagination. But both were presented as likely sources for troops to send to the China area, but so long as Iran is a top priority, it also becomes a prime excuse of avoiding redeployment.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.