A US airstrike in Syria targeted facilities belonging to a powerful Iranian-backed Iraqi armed group, killing one of its militants and wounding several others, an Iraqi militia official said on Friday.
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden said Friday that Iran should view its decision to authorize U.S. airstrikes in Syria as a warning that it can expect consequences for its support for militia groups that threaten the interests or personnel of U.S.
“You cannot act with impunity. Be careful, ”Biden said when asked by a reporter what message he intended to send with the airstrikes, which according to the Pentagon destroyed several buildings in eastern Syria, but did not intend to eradicate the militia groups that targeted them used to facilitate attacks inside Iraq.
Administration officials defended Thursday night’s airstrikes as legal and appropriate, saying they removed facilities that housed valuable “capabilities” used by Iranian-backed militia groups to attack US and allied forces in Iraq.
John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said members of Congress were notified in advance of the attacks when two Air Force F-15E jets launched seven missiles, destroyed nine facilities and severely damaged two others, leaving both “functionally destroyed. “. He said the facilities, at “entry checkpoints” on the border, had been used by militia groups that the United States considers responsible for recent attacks on US interests in Iraq.
In a political turn for the new Democratic administration, several prominent congressmen from Biden’s own party denounced the strikes, which were the first military actions he authorized. Democrats said the airstrikes were carried out without authorization from lawmakers, while Republicans were more supportive.
“Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional without extraordinary circumstances,” said Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va. And Senator Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, said lawmakers should hold the current administration to the same standards as any other. “Retaliatory strikes are not necessary to prevent an imminent threat,” he said, they must obtain authorization from Congress.
But Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, backed the decision as “the correct and proportionate response to protect the lives of Americans.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that Biden used his constitutional authority to defend American personnel.
“The targets were chosen to correspond to the recent attacks on the facilities and to deter the risk of additional attacks in the coming weeks,” he said.
Recent attacks cited include a February 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq that killed a civilian contractor and wounded a US service member and other coalition troops.
At the Pentagon, Kirby called the operation “a defensive attack” on a way station used by militants to move weapons and materials for attacks on Iraq. But he noted that while it sent a message of deterrence and eroded their ability to attack from that compound, the militias have other sites and capabilities. He said the attacks resulted in “casualties” but declined to provide further details on how many were killed or injured and what was inside the buildings pending a more comprehensive assessment of the damage inflicted.
An Iraqi militia official said on Friday the attacks killed one fighter and wounded several more.
Kirby said the facilities affected by the attack were near Boukamal, on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq, along the Euphrates River.
“This location is known to facilitate the activity of militia groups aligned with Iran,” he said. He described the site as a “complex” that had previously been used by the Islamic State group when it dominated the area.
The Iraqi militia official told The Associated Press that the attacks on Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, affected an area along the border between the Syrian site of Boukamal in front of Qaim on the Iraqi side. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the attack and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Speaking to reporters Thursday night shortly after the airstrikes took place, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said: “I am confident in the objective we are pursuing. We know what we hit. ”
Biden’s decision to strike in Syria did not appear to indicate an intention to expand US military involvement in the region, but rather to demonstrate a willingness to defend US troops in Iraq and send a message to Iran. The Biden administration in its early weeks has emphasized its intention to focus more on the challenges posed by China, even as threats persist in the Middle East.
The United States has previously targeted facilities in Syria belonging to Kataeb Hezbollah, blaming it for numerous attacks on US personnel and interests in Iraq. The Iraqi Kataeb is separate from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that monitors the war in Syria, said the attacks were targeting a shipment of weapons that were being carried by trucks entering Syrian territory from Iraq. The group said 22 fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi umbrella group of mostly Shiite paramilitaries that includes Kataeb Hezbollah, were killed. The report could not be independently verified.
In a statement, the group confirmed that one of its fighters was killed and said it reserved the right to retaliate, without elaborating. Kataeb Hezbollah, like other Iranian-backed factions, maintains fighters in Syria both to fight the Islamic State group and to assist Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in that country’s civil war.
Austin said he was confident that the United States had responded to “the same Shiite militants” who carried out the Feb. 5 rocket attack in northern Iraq.
Kirby credited the Iraqis with providing valuable intelligence that allowed the United States to identify the groups responsible for the attacks earlier this year. The United States, he said, then determined the appropriate target for the retaliatory strike. He said the United States also notified Russia shortly before the attack as part of the ongoing conflict elimination process of military activities in Syria.
“The operation sends an unequivocal message: President Biden will act to protect US and coalition personnel,” Kirby said.
Syria condemned the US attack, calling it “a cowardly and systematic US aggression”, warning that the attack will have consequences.
US forces have been significantly reduced in Iraq to 2,500 troops and are no longer engaged in combat missions with Iraqi forces in ongoing operations against the Islamic State group.
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