Biden orders retaliatory strikes on pro-Iran militias in Syria
The US carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria on sites connected to Iran-backed groups believed to be involved in recent attacks in Iraq, the first overt use of military force under President Joe Biden.
“These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Thursday night. “The strikes destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kait’ib Hezbollah and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.”
The assault came after a series of rocket attacks in recent days on facilities in Iraq used by the US, including one that killed a contractor working with the US-led coalition in the country. It wasn’t immediately clear if there were any casualties in the US strikes.
At about 2 a.m. local time, a single F-15 jet fired at a cluster of buildings at a location believed to be a transit point for smuggling militia members into Iraq, according to a US official. A handful of people were expected to be at the location, the official said.
After about a decade of civil war, Syria’s military is in little position to respond directly to a US attack. The country faced two attacks by the US military during former President Donald Trump’s tenure, both over President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in the conflict.
By hitting a facility in Syria said to be tied to Iranian-linked militia groups, the US avoids raising tensions that would come with a strike directly on Iran, which the Biden administration is seeking to persuade to return to the 2015 nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from three years ago.
“The operation sends an unambiguous message,” Kirby said Thursday night. “President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq.”
The US launched the strike one day after Biden spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. The two leaders “discussed the recent rocket attacks against Iraqi and coalition personnel and agreed that those responsible for such attacks must be held fully to account,” the White House said Wednesday in a statement.
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