U.S. Jumps Deeper As It Hits Syria, Iraq With Wave Of Strikes

US Strikes Middle East

The U.S. launched airstrikes against militias in Syria and Iraq as retaliation for the drone attack that killed three U.S. soldiers, pulling the Biden administration even deeper into the conflict that erupted when Hamas militants struck Israel in October.

The U.S. strikes targeted “logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces,” U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said.

Briefing reporters afterward, U.S. officials said the airstrikes had lasted about 30 minutes and that Iraqi government was informed beforehand. They said three of the sites were in Iraq and four were in Syria and that good weather in the targeted locations contributed to the timing of the strikes.

Three of the sites struck were in Iraq and four were in Syria, said Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of the U.S. Joint Staff.

U.S. CENTCOM said the assault involved more than 125 precision munitions, and they were delivered by numerous aircraft, including long-range B-1 bombers flown from the United States. Sims said weather was a factor as the U.S. planned the strikes in order to allow the U.S. to confirm it was hitting the right targets and avoiding civilian casualties.

It is not clear whether militia members were killed.

Syrian state media reported that there were casualties but did not give a number.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 18 militants were killed in the Syria strikes.


Citing U.S. officials, a Bloomberg report said:

Aircraft including long-range B-1 bombers flown from the U.S. struck 85 targets at seven locations linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force and to militant groups Iran funds.

The U.S. targets included command-and-control facilities and supply depots for rockets, missiles and drones, U.S. CENTCOM said.

The airstrikes had been seen as all but inevitable after the Jan. 28 attack on a U.S. base in Jordan, in which three soldiers were killed and many more were wounded. President Joe Biden had sought to calibrate the U.S. response to send a message to Iran and degrade the militant groups’ ability to attack American forces while avoiding a bigger conflict.

“Our response began today,” Biden said in a statement. “It will continue at times and places of our choosing.”

More strikes will take place “in the coming days,” U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters. At least in the first round of strikes, Biden elected not to target Iranian territory, a move that would have almost certainly provoked a counterattack and risked war with a key regional adversary.

Even so, targeting the Quds force, which is responsible for the IRGC’s foreign operations, marks a significant escalation in the conflict that began with the Hamas attack on Israel and Israeli forces’ subsequent military campaign in the Gaza Strip. The U.S. has become increasingly embroiled in the conflict, launching repeated strikes to defend U.S. troops in Syria and Iraq, and targeting Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen that have hit commercial shipping in the Red Sea, a vital trade waterway.

The U.S. attacks came days before U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to return to the region in a bid to help secure a cease-fire and hostage deal in Gaza that officials believe could serve as a tentative step toward ending the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

While backing Israel’s right to defend itself after the Oct. 7 attack, U.S. officials believe a cease-fire could help ease tensions and deny Iranian proxies a reason to keep attacking American forces.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that Biden has directed more action against the IRGC and militias backed by the group, though he did not say when that would happen. U.S. bases scattered across Iraq and Syria had come under attack more than 160 times in the weeks since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, though no US soldiers had been killed until last week.

Earlier Friday Biden was joined by family members of the three slain Americans for the return of their remains to U.S. soil. Biden, first lady Jill Biden and Austin witnessed the unloading of three flag-draped coffins at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

The U.S. blamed last week’s deadly attack on an Iranian-backed umbrella group known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq. That group is part of what is known as the Axis of Resistance, a web of anti-Israel and anti-U.S. militants in the region that encompasses groups in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, as well as Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also includes the Kata’ib Hezbollah militant group, which said earlier in the week that it was halting military operations in Iraq after pressure from the Iraqi government.

Iran’s Balancing Act

The Bloomberg report said:

Like the U.S., Iranian officials have sought to balance promises of retaliation against assurances that they do not seek a wider conflict. Earlier in the week, an IRGC commander said the country was not seeking a confrontation with the U.S. but has “no fear of war.”

Just Friday morning, Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi reiterated earlier promises by Tehran to potentially retaliate for any U.S. strikes targeting its interests. We “will not start a war, but if a country, if a cruel force wants to bully us, the Islamic Republic of Iran will give a strong response,” Raisi said.

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Amir Saeid Iravani, said “If any party attacks Iran’s territory, or its interests or citizens abroad, it will be met with a decisive response,” according to state-run media.

Numerous Aircraft

Other media reports said:

Washington’s latest airstrikes began around midnight Baghdad time on Saturday and hit more than 85 targets in Syria and Iraq, the U.S.CENTCOM said in a statement. The operation involved “numerous aircraft,” including long-range bombers flown from the U.S., which dropped over 125 precision munitions on their targets.

The bombings follow a series of assaults on American military bases in the Middle East, including a drone attack that killed three American soldiers and wounded more than 40 others at secretive U.S. installation in Jordan. That base, called Tower 22, is located near the Syrian and Iraqi borders.

The attack on Tower 22 was “planned, resourced and facilitated” by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday.

Kirby suggested that the U.S. response would be carried out over multiple days. It “won’t just be a one-off,” he said. “As I said, the first thing you see will not be the last thing.” He added that Biden is still trying to avoid a broader war with Iran.

Media reports in recent days raised concern that Biden was telegraphing his plans and giving the militias too much time to take preparatory steps, such as vacating obvious targets. Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin tried to deflect those worries on Friday, denying that the administration was giving Iran too much warning. He said the U.S. response will be “multi-tiered” and insisted that neither he nor Biden would tolerate attacks on American troops.

Impact Is Unclear

An AP report said:

The U.S. strikes appeared to stop short of directly targeting Iran or senior leaders of the Revolutionary Guard Quds Force within its borders, as the U.S. tries to prevent the conflict from escalating even further. Iran has denied it was behind the Jordan attack.

It was unclear what the impact will be of the strikes. Days of U.S. warnings may have sent militia members scattering into hiding. With multiple groups operating at various locations in several countries, a knockout blow is unlikely.

“We know that there are militants that use these locations, IRGC as well as Iranian-aligned militia group personnel,” Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims said. “We made these strikes tonight with an idea that there would likely be casualties associated with people inside those facilities.”

Iraq

Iraqi army spokesman Yahya Rasool said in a statement that the city of al-Qaim and areas along the country’s border with Syria had been hit by U.S. airstrikes. The strikes, he said, “constitute a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government, posing a threat that will pull Iraq and the region to undesirable consequences.”

Kataib Hezbollah And Harakat al-Nujaba

In a statement this week, Kataib Hezbollah announced “the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government.”

But that assertion clearly had no impact on U.S. strike plans.

Harakat al-Nujaba, one of the other major Iran-backed groups, vowed Friday to continue military operations against U.S. troops.

The U.S. has blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a broad coalition of Iran-backed militias, for the attack in Jordan, but has not narrowed it down to a specific group. Kataib Hezbollah is, however, a top suspect.

Some of the militias have been a threat to U.S. bases for years, but the groups intensified their assaults in the wake of Israel’s war with Hamas following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. The war has led to the deaths of more than 27,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and has inflamed the Middle East.

Iran-backed militia groups throughout the region have used the conflict to justify striking Israeli or U.S. interests, including threatening civilian commercial ships and U.S. warships in the Red Sea region with drones or missiles in almost daily exchanges.

As of Tuesday, Iran-backed militia groups had launched 166 attacks on U.S. military installations since Oct. 18, including 67 in Iraq, 98 in Syria and now one in Jordan, according to a U.S. military official. The last attack was Jan. 29 at al-Asad airbase in Iraq, and there were no injuries or damage.

The AP report said:

The U.S., meanwhile, has bolstered defenses at Tower 22, the base in Jordan that was attacked by Iran-backed militants on Sunday, according to a U.S. official. While previous U.S. responses in Iraq and Syria have been more limited, the deaths of the three service members in Jordan crossed a line, the official said.

That attack, which also injured more than 40 service members — largely Army National Guard — was the first to result in U.S. combat deaths from the Iran-backed militias since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out. Tower 22 houses about 350 U.S. troops and sits near the demilitarized zone on the border between Jordan and Syria. The Iraqi border is only 6 miles (10 kilometers) away.

Israel

A report said:

Also Friday, the Israeli military said its Arrow defense system intercepted a missile that approached the country from the Red Sea, raising suspicion it was launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The rebels did not immediately claim responsibility.

British And U.S Forces

And a U.S. official said the military had taken additional self-defense strikes inside Yemen Friday against Houthi military targets deemed an imminent threat. Al-Masirah, a Houthi-run satellite news channel, said British and U.S. forces conducted three strikes in the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah, a Houthi stronghold.

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