WASHINGTON – The U.S. military launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in Syria in retaliation for drone attacks, the Pentagon announced Sunday evening.
The strikes targeted sites that been used to launch drone attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
“Specifically, the U.S. strikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries,” Kirby said. “Several Iran-backed militia groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, used these facilities.”
U.S. F-15 and F-16 warplanes carried out the airstrikes, targeting three facilities that had been used to control the drones and for logistics, according to a Defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly. All the pilots returned safely. It’s too early to tell 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 attacks against facilities used by U.S. and allied troops in Iraq since April. Militia members have also fired rockets.
The strikes hit their intended targets, McNulty said.
“Their elimination will disrupt and degrade the operational capacity of the militia groups and deter additional attacks,” she said.
President Joe Biden ordered a similar retaliatory strike 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 U.S. and allied troops.
In April, U.S. officials attributed an attack on a base in northern Iraq to Iran-backed forces using small drones.
Drone threat is top concern for military
Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the top officer at U.S. Central Command, told reporters at the time that attacks by small drones were a top concern.
“The small drone threat, the quad-copter less than the arm’s length of a human being, is what really probably concerns 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 part of it. We got good people looking at it, and we’ll eventually know where it came from.”
Kirby stressed in his statement that Biden ordered the attacks in self-defense, an obligation the president has under the U.S. 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 U.S. military invasion of Iraq.
“As demonstrated by this evening’s strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel,” Kirby said. “Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting U.S. interests in Iraq, the President directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks.”
The attacks were designed to act as a deterrent to further attack but avoid further escalation, Kirby said.
In January 2020, then-President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani while he was in Baghdad. Iran retaliated with missile strikes on a U.S. base in western Iraq, wounding dozens of troops.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden orders airstrikes in Syria, Iraq on Iranian-backed militias