The U.S. carried out airstrikes on Thursday against Iran-backed militia sites in Iraq, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

The strikes have been made one day after the U.S. assessed an Iranian-backed group was responsible for a rocket attack on a base where coalition forces are located, killing two American service members and one British service member.

A U.S. defense official told the strikes were carried out by manned aircraft and targeted five weapons storage facilities.

In a written statement, the U.S. Defense Department stated the strike was aimed at harming the ability of Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iran-sponsored Shia militia group, to conduct future strikes against U.S. troops.

The weapons storage facilities included areas where weapons used to attack U.S. and coalition troops were stored.

“These strikes were defensive, proportional, and in direct response to the threat posed by Iranian-backed Shia militia groups (SMG) who continue to attack bases hosting OIR coalition forces,” the department statement said.

The statement added: “These terror groups must cease their attacks on U.S. and coalition forces or face consequences at a time and place of our choosing. The U.S. and the coalition remain committed to the lasting defeat of ISIS, and the long-term security, stability, and sovereignty of Iraq.”

The strikes come months after the U.S. and Iran were brought to the brink of war in early January. While the situation appeared to deescalate in the weeks following Iran’s retaliatory strike on a base housing U.S. troops in Iraq, tensions have flared up once again between Tehran and Washington.

There have been multiple rocket attacks in Iraq in recent weeks, but Wednesday’s was the first to cause a U.S. death since December, when a U.S. contractor was killed.

That death prompted retaliatory U.S. airstrikes against Iranian-backed militia targets in Iraq and Syria.

Trump administration officials pointed to the contractor’s death as their justification for air strikes that killed Iran’s second most powerful leader, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The U.S. was reviewing options as to how to respond, the U.S. Defense secretary and top U.S. general said earlier on Thursday.

“Yesterday’s attack by Iranian backed Shia militia groups consisted of multiple indirect fires that originated from a stationary platform and was clearly targeting coalition and partner forces on Camp Taji,” U.S. defense secretary Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon while pledging that the U.S. would take action to hold the attackers accountable.

“We’re going to take this one step at a time. But we’ve got to hold the perpetrators accountable. You don’t get to shoot at our bases and kill and wound Americans and get away with it,” Esper said.

President Donald Trump told reporters Thursday that he had been working on what to do about the attack on Wednesday night.

“They’ve sent a lot of rockets now. It hasn’t been fully determined it was Iran,” Trump said.

He added, “It was a rebel group, but most likely it looks like it could be backed by Iran.”

Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that the truck that fired the approximately 30 107mm rockets was captured by the Iraqi Security Forces and that forensics from that vehicle helped identify the attackers.

“We have pretty good confidence who did this. We were able to capture the truck, it was a modified truck with tubes, rocket tubes on the back, the Iraqi security forces did a good job in helping secure that truck. We have good indications based on forensics where it was fired from, who did the firing and so on and so forth,” Milley said.

Milley said that 14 coalition personnel were also wounded in the attack, including five injuries that were considered “urgent.” Those wounded included U.S., British, Polish and contractor personnel.

“The groups responsible will be held accountable appropriately,” Milley said, adding, “it was a significant attack and it resulted in the death and wounding of American (service members). So where we go from here as you would expect options are on the table and we are looking at everything and we will await final options and decisions from the President.”

The series of strikes come as both Iran and the US struggle to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

The top American military commander overseeing troops in the Middle East, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, said he thinks the coronavirus outbreak in Iran “is having an effect on how they make decisions,” and that “their inability to effectively respond to the coronavirus is I think inducing pressure on and inside the leadership.”

“I think it probably makes them, in terms of decision making, more dangerous rather than less dangerous. But that’s just my assessment,” said McKenzie, adding that he believes “the numbers are probably significantly underreported in terms of coronavirus victims in Iran.”

Asked why the Iranian groups chose to attack now, Milley said, “There could be a lot of reasons, it could be coronavirus, it could be rogue Shia militia groups, it could be Soleimani’s birthday, it could be a lot of things.”

McKenzie said the outbreak was also “going to have some effect on the military instrument” when asked about the Iranian regular military and IRGC at a Senate Armed Services hearing.

The coalition strikes come one day after the House of Representatives approved a War Powers resolution aiming to rein in presidential authority to use military action against Iran without congressional approval.

The resolution – introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat – passed the Senate last month with bipartisan support despite Trump’s vocal opposition.

It will now be sent to the White House, where Trump is expected to veto it. Congress is not expected to have enough votes to override a presidential veto. Although it is unlikely to become law, passage of the resolution by both chambers represents a significant rebuke to the President and highlights congressional support for efforts to check the executive branch’s war-making powers.

Other militia groups also hit

Another report said other militia groups under the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) were also hit in south of Iraq’s capital, Babylon and Karbala.

So far, there have been injuries reported following the attacks, but no confirmation on fatalities, she said.

Joint operation with the British

One U.S. official told the news agency AP earlier that the raids were a joint operation with the British. The officials spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

The AFP news agency reported similar lines, quoting an unnamed military source, who said “the operation is under way”.

Earlier on Thursday, Trump gave the Pentagon the authority to respond after a rocket barrage killed two U.S. troops and a British soldier.

The PMF commanders have already come out to condemn the latest raids “as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”

U.S. Congress votes to limit Trump’s war powers against Iran

The U.S. House of Representatives approved on Wednesday a War Powers Resolution aimed at limiting President Donald Trump’s ability to wage war against Iran.

The passage of the resolution was yet another rebuke of the president over his decision to order the killing of Iranian General Soleimani in January amid escalating tensions with Tehran.

The Senate voted 55 to 45, with eight Republicans joining Democrats on February 13, to approve the resolution.

The House action sends the measure to Trump, who has threatened to veto it. A two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate would be needed to override a veto.

The measure requires that Trump get congressional approval before engaging in further military action against Iran.

“Congress should vote on articles of war before any further hostilities with Iran,” Democratic Representative James McGovern said in House floor debate.

“The Constitution gives Congress the authority and responsibility to declare war,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Democrat.

Under the War Powers Act of 1973, the resolution directs the removal of US forces from hostilities against Iran that have not been authorized by Congress.

The resolution “fails to account for present reality,” the White House said in a statement on Tuesday.

“It was drafted many weeks ago with the intent of preventing an escalation between the United States and Iran,” the White House added.

“Despite the predictions of many people, however, no such escalation occurred,” the White House said. “The United States is not currently engaged in any use of force against Iran, in part because of the sound policies and decisive, effective actions of this administration.”

Anti-war sentiment has been rising in Congress as U.S. troops remain mired in conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Trump has repeatedly said he wants to end “America’s wars in the Middle East” and has sought to foster peace talks between the Taliban and the US-backed government in Afghanistan.

But Trump administration officials have offered shifting justifications for the drone strike that killed Soleimani and three others in a car at the Baghdad airport.

They initially said Soleimani was planning imminent attacks on US troops and sites, but have only offered vague details.

Later, a legally mandated White House report to Congress did not cite an imminent threat.

The U.S. air attack on Soleimani on Iraqi soil sparked public demands in Iraq for U.S. troops to leave.

The U.S. officials so far have declined to react to those calls.

Wednesday’s vote is the latest in a series of actions by Congress that signal Trump does not have support for a potential conflict with Iran.

The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives previously voted on January 30 to approve two measures aimed at constraining Trump’s ability to direct military action in the Middle East.

A bill that would block funding for any use of offensive force against Iran passed by a 228-175 vote. A second measure, repealing Congress’s 2002 authorization of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, passed 236-166. The House also voted 224-194 on January 9 to rebuke Trump for the killing of Soleimani.


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