The United States said Sunday it had launched another round of airstrikes against the Iranian-backed militia in Iraq and Syria, this time in response to airstrikes by the militia against US personnel and facilities in Iraq.
In a statement, the U.S. military said it was targeting operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one in Iraq. He did not say whether he believed anyone was killed or injured, but officials said assessments were ongoing.
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The strikes were led by President Joe Biden, the second time he has ordered strikes against the Iranian-backed militia since taking power five months ago. Biden last ordered limited strikes in Syria in February, in response to rocket fire into Iraq.
“As evidenced by the afternoon strikes, President Biden was clear that he would act to protect US personnel,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
The strikes came even as the Biden government is trying to possibly revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The retaliatory decision seems to show how Biden aims to fragment such defensive attacks, while at the same time involving Tehran in diplomacy.
Critics of Biden say Iran cannot trust and point to drone strikes as further evidence that Iran and its proxies will never accept a US military presence in Iraq or Syria.
Biden and the White House declined to comment on the strikes on Sunday. However, Biden will meet with outgoing Israeli President Raven Rivlin at the White House on Monday for a wide-ranging discussion that will include Iran and US efforts to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal. These efforts have raised serious concerns in Israel, Iran’s enemy.
U.S. officials believe Iran is behind growing drone strikes and periodic fires against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, where the U.S. military is helping Baghdad fight Islamic State remnants.
Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Iranian-backed militias had carried out at least five airstrikes against facilities used by U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq since April.
The Pentagon said the targets were used by Iranian-backed militias, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
One of the targeted facilities was used to launch and retrieve the aircraft, a defense official said.
The U.S. military says F-15 and F-16 fighter jets have been attacked, officials said, adding that the pilots have returned safely from the mission.
“We believe that each strike has achieved its objectives,” one official told Reuters.
The Iraqi government is struggling to deal with ideologically aligned militias in Iran, which are accused of firing rockets at US forces and taking part in the assassination of peaceful pro-democracy activists.
Earlier in June, Iraq released Iranian militia commander Qasim Muslih, who was arrested in May on terrorism charges after authorities found insufficient evidence against him.