The U.S. military carried out a round of air strikes against Iran-backed militia in Iraq and Syria after three months of attacks by the militia against U.S. and coalition personnel and facilities in Iraq, multiple sources report, and those factions have already vowed revenge.
The retaliatory strikes were carried out at the direction of President Joe Biden, only the second time he has ordered attacks of this nature since taking office five months ago. The previous attacks came as limited strikes in Syria in February as a response to rocket attacks in Iraq.
"At President Biden's direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. "The targets were selected because these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq."
The Pentagon said the facilities were used by Iran-backed militia factions, including Kata'ib Hezbollah and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, per The Associated Press.
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Navy Cmdr. Jessica McNulty, said Monday that each strike hit its intended target and that the U.S. military was still assessing the results of the operation. However, "Iran-backed militias have conducted at least five one-way UAV 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," she told The Military Times.
Two Iraqi militia officials, both speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press in Baghdad that four militiamen were killed in the airstrikes near the border with Syria. They said the first strike hit a weapons storage facility inside Syrian territory, where the militiamen were killed. The second strike hit the border strip.
"We ... will avenge the blood of our righteous martyrs against the perpetrators of this heinous crime and with God's help we will make the enemy taste the bitterness of revenge," the Iran-backed Iraqi militia factions said in a statement released to The Associated Press. Iraq's military condemned the strike as "a blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and national security."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh of Iran also had critical comments: "Definitely, what the U.S. is doing is disrupting the security of the region," he said.
McNulty said the U.S. airstrikes were "necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation," in an emailed statement to The Military Times. "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. We will take necessary and appropriate measures to defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region."
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