The American troops currently deployed to the Middle East region have been placed on "heightened alert" due to a potential strike by Iran, Politico reported on Thursday, citing a military official.
The Pentagon is closely watching "troubling indicators of potential attack preparations" on the part of Tehran, the official said.
Rumours have arisen recently that reducing US military personnel in the Middle East, namely in Iraq and Afghanistan, would provide an opportunity for Iran to carry out military strikes in the region. An Axios report also claimed last month that the Israeli military was put on alert over fears of potential retaliatory attacks against Israel by Iran.
Top US general in the Middle East, CENTCOM chief Frank McKenzie has confirmed Thursday reports of a drawdown of American diplomatic personnel in Iraq to reduce exposure to possible Iranian attacks. The move, described as small-scale and temporary, is timed to the upcoming first anniversary of the US airstrike that killed Iranian top military commander Qasem Soleimani on 3 January.
"That is a small drawdown... The Ambassador will remain, core embassy functions will remain", McKenzie said in an interview to the Defence One media outlet. "It was a smart thing to do to reduce our attack surface".
Speculation over a potential military attack has intensified following the assassination of Iranian nuclear physicist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Iranian officials have accused the Israeli government of targeting Fakhrizadeh for a long time, claiming he was killed by its Mossad intelligence agency and pledging to take revenge for his death.
While Tel Aviv has neither refuted, not confirmed the accusations, Israel believes Fakhrizadeh headed a secret unit within the Iranian military allegedly working on a nuclear weapon. Following the scientist's death, media reported, citing US officials, that Fakhrizadeh could have been killed in an attempt to thwart Biden's re-engagement with Iran.
Iran, however, has repeatedly dismissed claims of developing nuclear weapons, insisting its nuclear programme serves purely peaceful purposes.
The latest and most serious escalation in the region was witnessed almost a year ago, when Iran launched rockets at the Ayn al Asad airbase in western Iraq, where US troops were stationed at that time. Tehran said it was a retaliatory attack for the assassination of former IRGC commander Soleimani in a targeted US strike on Baghdad International airport.
Suleiman was a highly praised figure in Iran, respected for combating terrorist and militants groups in the region and considered the architect of the country's modern security infrastructure.