Trump gives Pentagon authority for potential response after deadly Iraq attack

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper gestures as he speaks during a joint news conference with Britain's Secretary of State of Defence Ben Wallace after their meeting at Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump has given the Pentagon the authority to potentially respond to Wednesday’s rocket attack by Iran-backed militia in Iraq that killed two American troops and a British service member, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Thursday.

“I have spoken with the president. He’s given me the authority to do what we need to do, consistent with his guidance. And, you know -- if that becomes the case,” Esper told reporters at the Pentagon, adding he and Trump had a “good conversation” on Wednesday.

Asked what he meant his caveat, Esper suggested he was not going to telegraph any U.S. response. Asked if a U.S. response could include strikes inside Iran, Esper said: “I’m not going to take any option off the table right now, but we are focused on the group -- groups -- that we believe perpetrated this in Iraq, as the immediate (focus).”

Reporting by Phil Stewart