U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday (February 25) directed U.S. military airstrikes in eastern Syria against facilities belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militia, in a calibrated response to rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.
The strikes, which were first reported by Reuters, appeared to be limited in scope, potentially lowering the risk of escalation.
Speaking to reporters following the announcement of the strikes, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that he was confident they had hit the correct targets.
“We know what we hit. And we’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shi’ite militia that conducted the strikes,” he said.
Biden’s decision to strike only in Syria and not in Iraq, at least for now, also gives the Iraqi government some breathing room as it carries out its own investigation of a Feb. 15 attack that wounded Americans.
“At President (Joe) Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted airstrikes against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
Kirby added that the strikes destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (K.H.) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the decision to carry out these strikes was meant to send a signal that while the United States wanted to punish the militias, it did not want the situation to spiral into a bigger conflict.
The official added that Biden was presented with a range of options and one of the most limited responses was chosen.
It was not immediately clear what damage was caused and if there were any casualties from the U.S. strike.
The rocket attacks on U.S. positions in Iraq were carried out as Washington and Tehran are looking for a way to return to the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
(Production: Ashraf Fahim)