WASHINGTON – The U.S. military launched airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria in retaliation for the drone strikes, the Pentagon announced Sunday night.
The attacks targeted sites that were used to launch drone strikes against US personnel and facilities in Iraq, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
“Specifically, the US strikes targeted weapons storage and operational facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which are located near the border between those countries,” Kirby said. “Several Iranian-backed militia groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, used these facilities.”
American F-15 and F-16 fighter jets carried out the airstrikes, targeting three facilities that had been used to control drones and for logistics, according to a defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly. All the pilots returned safely. It is too early to know if there were casualties on the ground among civilians or militants, the official said. JEFF OK’D
Navy Cmdr. Jessica McNulty said Sunday night that Iranian-backed militias have launched five drone strikes against facilities used by US and allied troops in Iraq since April. Members of the militia have also fired rockets.
The attacks achieved their intended targets, McNulty said.
“Their removal will disrupt and degrade the operational capabilities of the militia groups and deter further attacks,” she said.
President Joe Biden ordered a similar retaliatory attack in February. That was the first attack ordered by Biden and came in response to rocket attacks on a base in northern Iraq that killed a contractor and wounded US and allied troops.
In April, US officials attributed an attack on a base in northern Iraq to Iranian-backed forces using small drones.
The threat of drones is the main concern for the military
Navy Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the top official with the US Central Command, told reporters at the time that small drone strikes were a top concern.
“The little drone threat, the quad helicopter less than a human’s arm’s length, is what probably worries me the most in the theater, and this was an attack of that nature,” McKenzie said. “We are still trying to determine the attribution of that attack. We recovered some of it. We got good people to see it, and eventually we will find out where it came from.”
Kirby noted in his statement that Biden ordered the attacks in self-defense, an obligation the president has under the United States Constitution. It’s an important distinction, as Congress has moved to repeal the nearly two-decade-old war resolution that paved the way for the US military invasion of Iraq.
“As the attacks tonight demonstrated, President Biden has made it clear that he will act to protect American personnel,” Kirby said. “Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iranian-backed groups against US interests in Iraq, the president has led new military actions to disrupt and deter such attacks.”
The attacks were designed to act as a deterrent from further attacks but prevent further escalation, Kirby said.
In January 2020, then-President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani while he was in Baghdad. Iran retaliated with missile strikes on a US base in western Iraq, wounding dozens of soldiers.