The U.S. carried out airstrikes Sunday on buildings on the Iraq-Syria border that are believed to be used by Iranian-backed militia groups to carry out drone attacks targeting American personnel and facilities in Iraq.
In a statement, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that President Joe Biden ordered the airstrikes. The facilities, he said, were being used by groups such as Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
Kirby said the targeted structures were operational weapons storage facilities, two in Syria and one in Iraq. All facilities were near the border between the two nations, he said.
“As demonstrated by this evening’s strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel,” Kirby said. “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.”
A U.S. defense official said that F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft carried out the airstrikes, using a mixture of precision-guided munitions. The fighters took off from U.S. bases in the Middle East, and the pilots made it back safely, the official said, but it is too early to assess how many militia members or civilians may have been killed or wounded in the strikes.
Navy Cmdr. Jessica McNulty, a spokeswoman for the Pentagon, said the military believes each strike hit the targets that were intended. The Pentagon is now assessing the effects of the airstrike.
McNulty said the Iran-backed militias had carried out at least five one-way unmanned aerial vehicle attacks against facilities used by U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq since April, as well as ongoing rocket attacks against U.S. and coalition forces.
“Through these and other means, we seek to make clear to Iran and Iran-backed militia groups that there will be serious consequences if they continue to attack, or to arm, fund and train militia groups that attack our people,” McNulty said. “We will take necessary and appropriate measures to defend U.S. personnel, partners and allies in the region.”
Kirby described the bombings as “defensive precision airstrikes,” and said the facilities were selected because they were used by the militias carrying out UAV attacks. He said they were limited in scope, and necessary to address the threat.
“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,” Kirby said. “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.”
Biden previously ordered airstrikes on several facilities at a border control point in eastern Syria on February 25. As with these strikes, the Pentagon said the facilities were used by groups including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada to carry out attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq. Those February strikes followed a series of rocket attacks in Iraq that heightened tensions in the region.