The US military has carried out air strikes on 85 targets in Iraq and Syria linked to Iranian-backed militias, in response to a fatal drone attack on US troops in Jordan last week.
Biden vows to defend US interests and allies
President Joe Biden said the strikes were the beginning of a “tiered response” to the drone attack that killed three US soldiers and wounded more than 40 others at a remote base in Jordan on Saturday. He said the US would continue to take action “at times and places of our choosing”.
Biden attended the dignified return of the three slain US soldiers at Dover Air Force Base on Friday, and spoke with their families. He said the US did not seek conflict in the Middle East, but warned those who might harm Americans: “If you harm an American, we will respond.”
The drone attack was claimed by a group called Saraya Awliya al-Dam, or Guardians of Blood Brigade, which is believed to be affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
US targets command and control centers, rockets and drones
The US strikes hit seven facilities used by the militias for command and control operations, intelligence gathering, rocket and missile storage, and drone launch sites, according to the National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.
He said the targets were selected based on “clear, irrefutable evidence” that they were connected to attacks on US personnel in the region. He said the US used more than 125 precision munitions in the strikes.
The strikes targeted sites in both Iraq and Syria, where the militias operate with varying degrees of influence and autonomy. The US has accused Iran of providing weapons, training and funding to these groups, which have been blamed for a series of rocket and drone attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq in recent months.
Syrian state TV reports casualties, Iran condemns strikes
Syrian state television reported that the US strikes killed and wounded people, but did not give an exact number of casualties. It said the strikes hit areas near the border town of Albu Kamal, where the militias have a strong presence.
Iran condemned the US strikes as a “clear violation of international law and human rights”. Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the strikes were “a continuation of the US aggression and occupation in the region”.
He said Iran would continue to support the “resistance forces” in Iraq and Syria, and called on the US to withdraw its troops from the region.
US seeks to deter Iran and its proxies, but risks escalation
The US strikes are a significant escalation in Washington’s bid to deter the growing threat from Iran and its proxies in the Middle East, as Biden seeks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran and prevent the Israel-Hamas war from spiraling into a wider conflict.
The strikes also come amid rising tensions between the US and Iraq, where the parliament has passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of all foreign troops. The US has about 2,500 troops in Iraq, mainly to support the fight against the Islamic State group.
The US has previously conducted limited strikes on Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, most notably in January 2020, when it killed IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike near Baghdad airport.
However, the strikes have also provoked retaliation from the militias, raising the risk of a cycle of violence that could undermine the stability of the region and the prospects of diplomacy.