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US conducts retaliatory strikes against militias in Iraq and Syria

‘Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing,’ President Joe Biden warned

Members of the United States Honor Guard carry the remains of the three American service members who died in Jordan during a drone attack at Dover Air Base in Dover, Delaware.
Members of the United States Honor Guard carry the remains of the three American service members who died in Jordan during a drone attack at Dover Air Base in Dover, Delaware.MICHAEL MCCOY (REUTERS)

The United States launched retaliatory actions in the Middle East on Friday in response to a drone attack on a U.S. base in Jordan last Sunday that killed three U.S. soldiers, according to U.S. officials. The Pentagon launched airstrikes against more than 85 targets in Iraq and Syria of militias allegedly backed by Iran.

“This afternoon, at my direction, U.S. military forces struck targets at facilities in Iraq and Syria that the IRGC and affiliated militia use to attack U.S. forces,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing,” he warned. “The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond,” added Biden.

“U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) forces conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force and affiliated militia groups,” the U.S. military announced Friday afternoon. “U.S. military forces struck more than 85 targets, with numerous aircraft [including] long-range bombers flown from [the] United States. The airstrikes employed more than 125 precision munitions.”

“The facilities that were struck included command and control operations centers, intelligence centers, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicle storage, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and coalition forces,” the same statement added.

The operation was approved by President Joe Biden, who, along with other senior U.S. officials, had warned for days that the U.S. would strike back at the militias for the attack on U.S. service members in a “tiered response.”

Syrian state media said on Friday that an “American aggression” on sites in Syria’s desert areas and the Syrian and Iraqi border resulted in a number of casualties and injuries, as reported by Reuters. The official Iranian state news agency said shortly after the attacks were reported to have taken place that at least 10 people were killed in the strikes, including three Iraqis. The report cited Syrian and Iraqi sources. The attacks were reportedly intense near the Syrian towns of Al Mayadeen and Deir Azouz.

The United States accuses Iran of financing and arming the militants, while Iran has denied its involvement. None of the targets of this first round of air strikes were in Iran. Both powers are gauging the other’s every move and reaction, as it is in neither’s interest for the Middle East conflict to escalate out of control. In its response, Washington is seeking to strike a delicate balance: on the one hand, it does not want to provoke a serious escalation of the conflict; on the other hand, it wants to be sufficiently forceful both to make the message clear and to punish enemy positions and prevent further attacks on U.S. targets.

White House sources said the facilities targeted in Friday’s attacks were carefully selected to avoid civilian casualties and were based on clear evidence that they were linked to attacks against Americans. John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, during a briefing following the attacks said that the Department of Defence is in the early stages of assessing the damage caused, but that they believe the strikes were succesful.

The U.S. military actions came on the same day that the president and first lady, Jill Biden, met with the grieving families of the three U.S. soldiers killed last Sunday, which also injured 41 other service members. Such a meeting, which took place at the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and where the families were reunited with their loved ones’ caskets draped in the American flag, has become a rare occurrence in recent years as the United States has withdrawn from conflicts abroad. The three soldiers — Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett (all three from the state of Georgia) — are the first U.S. fatalities attributed to Iranian-backed militia groups in the Middle East since the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7, 2023. Biden vowed Thursday to never forget their sacrifice for the nation, saying they “risked everything.”

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