US strikes Iraqi militias in Syria in retaliation for rocket attacks
WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Early Friday morning, around 2 a.m. local time, the United States bombed Iraqi militias, backed by Iran, and based in eastern Syria near from the Iraqi border.
The US strikes were in retaliation for a series of rocket attacks against US and coalition targets, starting with the February 15 assault on Erbil International Airport that killed a contractor and a civilian and injured eight other people, as well as an American soldier.
The strikes were also intended to deter further attacks, as the United States suggested when military action was announced Thursday night in Washington DC in a statement released by Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.
âUS military forces earlier in the evening carried out airstrikes against infrastructure used by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria,â Kirby said.
“These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks on US and coalition personnel in Iraq,” he said, adding the meaningful phrase, “and continued threats against such personnel.”
More than any other official in Washington, Representative Michael McCaul, chief Republican of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has called for such action. In a statement to Kurdistan 24 on Wednesday, the Texas congressman warned of the danger of “more attacks with more possibility of casualties” if the United States does not quickly determine who was behind the attacks and did not react accordingly.
READ MORE: Representative McCaul calls for swift and decisive action against rocket attacks in Iraq
As Kirby explained on Thursday, the US strikes “destroyed several facilities at a border checkpoint used by a number of Iran-backed militant groups,” including Kataib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Battalions) and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada (Battalions of the Master of the Martyrs).
During the strike, US warplanes dropped seven 500-pound bombs on seven targets, including a border crossing that militias used to transfer weapons between Iraq and Syria.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 17 fighters were killed and three trucks full of weapons were destroyed.
“We are convinced that this target was being used by the same Shiite militia that carried out the strikes,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters who accompanied him from California to Washington on Thursday evening.
âWe have authorized and encouraged the Iraqis to investigate and develop intelligence. And that was very helpful to us in finding the target, âsaid Austin.
It is highly likely that the US strike took its targets, as well as their Iranian backers, by surprise. As recently as Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of the series of rocket attacks on US and coalition targets: “We did not do any final allocation “.
At the Pentagon, Kirby spoke the same way on Wednesday, saying, âWe are unable to give you any attribution as to who was behind these attacks. “
Psaki also stressed on Wednesday that “What we will not do” is “to unleash and risk an escalation which plays Iran’s game by further destabilizing Iraq”. By hitting targets in Syria, the Biden administration presumably hoped to reduce Iranian pressure on Iraq.
Psaki also noted on Wednesday that US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had spoken the night before and that the rocket attacks had formed “an important part” of their discussion.
Earlier Wednesday, US Ambassador to Iraq Matthew H. Tueller met with Masrour Barzani, the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), who conducted his own investigation into the rocket attack on Erbil.
Shortly before the US strikes, Barzani announced that the preliminary investigation into the rocket attacks on Erbil was complete, but he provided no further details.
READ MORE: Kurdistan region: Preliminary investigation into the Erbil rocket attack completed
In his statement on Thursday, Kirby described the US strikes as a “proportionate military response” which was “conducted with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners.”
The strikes send “a clear message,” Kirby said. “President Biden will act to protect US and coalition personnel”, while “we have acted in a deliberate manner which aims to defuse the general situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.”
Editing by Joanne Stocker-Kelly