US retaliatory strikes hit Iran-linked targets in Syria, Iraq

The US military launched retaliatory air strikes against Iranian forces and Tehran-backed militia groups in Iraq and Syria on Friday, killing at least 18 fighters, following a deadly drone attack on an American base in Jordan.

The United States blamed the Sunday drone attack on Iran-backed forces, but did not strike the country’s territory, with Washington seeking to deter future attacks while stopping short of all-out war with Tehran — something both sides have sought to avoid.

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

“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,” he added.

The strikes targeted the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force as well as “affiliated militia groups,” with American forces including long-range bombers flown from the United States hitting “more than 85 targets,” the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

“The airstrikes employed more than 125 precision munitions,” CENTCOM said. Targets included command and control and intelligence centers as well as rocket, missile and drone storage facilities belonging to militia groups and Iranian forces “who facilitated attacks against US and coalition forces.”

The strikes killed at least 18 pro-Iran fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists the strikes lasted about 30 minutes, though they involved a lengthy trip for the B-1 bombers that flew from the United States.

He said the Defense Department is still assessing damage from the strikes — which hit targets at seven separate facilities — but that the United States believes the raids were successful, and made clear that more would follow.

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman said that at least 26 major sites housing pro-Iranian groups were destroyed in Syria, including weapons depots.

A weapons warehouse and a command center belonging to pro-Iranian groups were also targeted in western Iraq, along the Syrian border, two Iraq security sources told AFP, resulting in at least “some injuries.”

The strikes represent a “significant escalation,” according to Allison McManus, managing director for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress.

But she was skeptical about the impact, adding: “We have not seen that similar tit-for-tat strikes have had a deterrent effect.”

‘Dignified transfer’ 

Iraq, whose prime minister called for the departure of international troops after a previous US strike in Baghdad, condemned the latest military action as a violation of its sovereignty.

Kirby said Washington “did inform the Iraqi government prior to the strikes,” but did not elaborate on Baghdad’s response.

Biden earlier Friday attended a solemn military ritual at a Delaware air base for the return of the three soldiers killed in Sunday’s drone attack in Jordan.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General CQ Brown, also attended what is known as a “dignified transfer” — their presence highlighting the relative rarity of returning dead US service members in the wake of the exit from Afghanistan in 2021.

The soldiers killed Sunday were the first US military deaths from hostile fire in the Middle East since the October 7 Hamas surprise attack on Israel.

That attack sparked a devastating Israeli assault on Gaza, which has stoked tensions and violence in the region and dragged it ever closer to an all-out conflict.

US and coalition troops have been attacked more than 165 times in Iraq, Syria and Jordan since mid-October with weapons including drones, rockets and short-range ballistic missiles.

Dozens of American personnel were wounded in previous attacks, many of which have been claimed by a loose alliance of Iran-linked armed groups that opposes US support for Israel in the Gaza conflict and wants American troops out of the region.

Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson hit out at Biden’s operation as too little, too late.

“Unfortunately, the administration waited for a week and telegraphed to the world, including to Iran, the nature of our response,” he said in a statement Friday.

“The public handwringing and excessive signaling undercuts our ability to put a decisive end to the barrage of attacks endured over the past few months.”

Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels meanwhile began targeting international shipping in November, sparking US and British air strikes aimed at reducing their ability to hit commercial vessels.


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