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U.S. forces in Syria attacked after airstrikes on Iran-backed militias

US forces in Syria were fired at with rockets the day after the US military launched so-called “defensive” air strikes against Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria.

Col. Wayne Marotto, a military spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, an international coalition fighting the extremist group Islamic State, said around 7.44 p.m. Monday local time (12:44 p.m. ET) US forces in Syria were hit by multiple missiles. There were no injuries and the damage is being assessed, he said on Twitter.

Marotto later tweeted that US forces in Syria had responded in self-defense with artillery fire at the missile launch positions during the attack.
But the escalation came a day after the Pentagon said US air strikes on Sunday took advantage of weapons caches and operational facilities from Iran-backed militias at two locations in Syria and one in Iraq.

Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken said the air strikes were aimed to disrupt and deter attacks by Iran-backed groups against US interests in Iraq.

“We are taking the necessary conscious measures to limit the risk of escalation, but also to send a clear and unequivocal deterrent message,” he told reporters in Rome on Monday.

Jessica McNulty, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the attacked facilities were used by a network of Iran-backed militias responsible for a number of attacks on facilities hosting US personnel in Iraq.

Iran-backed militias have carried out at least five “one-way” drone strikes since April against facilities used by the United States and coalition personnel in Iraq, as well as sustained rocket attacks on US and US forces.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the air strikes were “defensive” as they were carried out in response to militia attacks. Several Iran-backed militias, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, made use of the facilities, Kirby added.

The 14th Brigade of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a state-sanctioned umbrella organization of various Iran-backed militias in Iraq, said four of their militiamen were killed in the attack on Sunday.

Symbolic funerals took place in Baghdad on Tuesday. Pictures released by the agencies showed members of the People’s Mobilization Forces carrying simulated coffins through the streets of the Iraqi capital for the dead in the air strike on Sunday.

The mobilization forces said in a statement that the dead were working to prevent ISIS infiltration from Syria into Iraq and were not involved in any activity against foreign forces in Iraq. The group also denied the existence of weapons stores.

He said he reserved the right to respond and hold the perpetrators accountable.

A spokesman for the commander in chief of the Iraqi armed forces also condemned the air strike on Sunday, describing it as a “blatant and unacceptable” violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
“Iraq reiterates its refusal to be a stage for reckoning,” the spokesman said.

In February, President Joe Biden ordered air strikes on buildings in Syria that the Pentagon says were used by Iran-backed militias in retaliation for rocket attacks on US targets in neighboring Iraq.

This operation was the first known use of military force by the Biden government.

Sunday’s air strikes come at a critical time for Iran-United States relations as delegations from both countries seek to revive the torn 2015 nuclear deal.

The 2015 agreement between Iran and six world powers (US, Russia, China, Germany, France, UK) limited Tehran’s nuclear capacity in return for a lifting of sanctions.

Former President Donald Trump then withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and again imposed crippling sanctions on the country.
When asked on Monday whether he blames Tehran for militia attacks against US interests in Iraq, Blinken replied, “Well, several of the groups involved in the recent attacks are Iran-backed militias.”

When asked what action the United States could take if the militia strikes continued, Blinken said Sunday’s air strikes and previous actions showed that Bide had been shown.

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