Rising tensions that, according to President Trump, left the United States just short of open conflict with Iran this week highlight a grim reality that the Pentagon has coped with for years: While the U.S. military outguns Iran, Tehran could still make even a limited war painful.
Iran’s military has more than 700,000 troops, including a conventional army of about 350,000 soldiers, according to a Congressional Research Service report published last month. That’s not counting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a specialized force comprising another 125,000 troops in its army and 20,000 personnel in its navy, the CRS report said.
It’s the IRGC that has created friction between the United States and Iran. The force, designated a foreign terrorist organization by the administration in April, patrols the strategically important Strait of Hormuz, oversees Iran’s ballistic missile programs and claimed responsibility for launching the missile that downed a U.S. RQ-4 surveillance drone over the Gulf of Oman early Thursday, prompting the Trump administration to plan a retaliatory strike before the president halted it late in the day.
A review of Iran’s weapons shows that many of them are “obsolete, obsolescent, or of relatively low quality,” according to a 2018 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But the report adds that Tehran’s ballistic and cruise missiles, air defenses and use of proxy forces can “scarcely be ignored.”
A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the matter’s extreme sensitivity, said Friday that ships accompanying the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln were poised to strike if called upon. They included the USS Bainbridge, a destroyer, and the USS Leyte Gulf, a guided-missile cruiser, both of which can carry Tomahawk missiles, the official said.
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