RNA - Several American officials, who saw the directive or were briefed on it, told The New York Times on Friday that the Pentagon had last week ordered planners at the US military's Central Command and in Iraq to draw up a strategy to dismantle Kata'ib Hezbollah, which is part of the anti-terror Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) or Hashd al-Sha’abi.
In response, the officials said, US army lieutenant general Robert P. White had written a memorandum warning about the costs and risks of any such attack, saying it could be "bloody and counterproductive."
They added that General White had also cautioned that a new military action would require thousands more American troops be deployed to Iraq and divert resources from existing missions there.
The officials further said the memo had pointed out that a possible Iraq campaign might run afoul of the current agreement with the Baghdad government that allows American troops to operate in the country.
Washington has blamed Kata'ib Hezbollah for about a dozen rocket attacks against American troops based in Iraq over the past few months. It claims that the group is backed by Iran.
The US has also conducted a string of deadly airstrikes on Iraqi military bases, which are denounced by Baghdad as a violation of its sovereign and targeted aggression against its official armed forces.
American officials said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Robert C. O’Brien, the national security adviser, have been pushing for an aggressive action against Iraqi resistance groups, while Pentagon chief Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have been wary of a sharp military escalation.
Still, they added, Esper authorized planning for a new campaign inside Iraq.
Similarly, during an Oval Office meeting on March 19, US President Donald Trump did not make a decision about whether he might authorize the new campaign in Iraq, but allowed the planning to continue, they emphasized.
Earlier this week, Kata’ib Hezbollah held a military drill, dubbed Hunting the Crow, in the town of Jurf al-Nasr near Baghdad, to prepare itself for battling occupying US troops after suspicious American activities.
Kata’ib spokesman Jaafar al-Husseini said sophisticated weapons with live ammunition were used in the exercises, which simulated a number of engagement patterns, including confronting airstrikes and land exposure, and fighting in a forest environment.
On Wednesday, the group warned its fighters to prepare for possible US attacks and threatened retaliation.
“We will respond with full force to all their military, security, and economic facilities,” it said in a statement.
On January 5, the Iraqi parliament obliged the government "to work towards ending the presence of all foreign troops," including some 5,200 American forces.
The vote came two days after the US military - acting on Trump’s order - launched a fatal drone strike on Iran's prominent anti-terror commander Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani upon his arrival in the Iraqi capital at the invitation of the Baghdad government.
The attack also claimed the lives of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the PMU's second-in-command, along with eight other Iranian and Iraqi people.
Infuriated by the Iraqi parliament's vote, Trump threatened sanctions should US troops be expelled from the country.