The United States has launched what it says are defensive airstrikes against Iran-backed militias along the Iraq-Syria border.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the ‘precision’ strikes had been launched at the behest of President Biden on Sunday evening.
Two targets were attacked in Syria, with a third also bombed in Iraq. Kirby added that multiple Iran-backed milita groups including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) had been targeted.
US Air Force F-15 and F-16 jets were used to carry out the strikes, and returned to base without incident afterwards.
Kirby said the targets had been chosen because they had previously launched drone strikes against US personnel and bases in Iraq using rudimentary unmanned aerial vehicles.
It is unclear if anyone was injured or killed in those strikes, although a military source told Fox News ‘many casualties’ were expected, because the strike took place at a time of day when the targets were particularly active.
President Biden returned to the White House from Camp David on Sunday evening, and answered ‘Tomorrow’ when asked by reporters to comment on the strikes.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed the strikes were ‘a proportional response to a serious and specific threat.’
She added: ‘The Iran-backed militias utilizing these facilities have been engaged in attacks threatening US service members.’
But Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, said he feared the US was inching towards a new war with Iran, which elected hardline president Ebrahim Raisi to power last week.
Murphy said: ‘The pace of activity directed at U.S forces and the repeated retaliatory strikes against Iranian proxy forces are starting to look like what would qualify as a pattern of hostilities under the War Powers Act.’
Unverified Twitter photos showed flames and smoke rising from the site of what one user claimed was a target site.
Kirby said: ‘At President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region.
‘The targets were selected because these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq.
‘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’s statement continued: ‘Several Iran-backed militia groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), used these facilities.
‘As demonstrated by this evening’s strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel. 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.
‘We are in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq for the sole purpose of assisting the Iraqi Security Forces in their efforts to defeat ISIS. The United States took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation – but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message.
‘As a matter of international law, the United States acted pursuant to its right of self-defense. The strikes were both necessary to address the threat and appropriately limited in scope. As a matter of domestic law, the President took this action pursuant to his Article II authority to protect U.S. personnel in Iraq.’
President Biden launched his first air strikes against other Iranian-backed militias on February 25, just over a month after being sworn into office.
Those strikes destroyed multiple buildings used by Shi’a militias along the Syrian-Iraqi border, with Kirby claiming at the time that they’d been ‘proportionate.’