WASHINGTON DC, USA: The United States military says it carried out attacks on facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran-backed militia on Thursday, following recent rocket attacks on US troop locations in Iraq.
“At President Biden’s direction, US military forces earlier this evening conducted airstrikes against infrastructure utilised by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
“These strikes were authorised in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to that personnel,” he said.
According to the Pentagon, US fighter jets dropped seven 500-lb Joint Direct Attack Munition-guided precision bombs, hitting seven targets, which includes a crossing used by the armed groups to move weapons across the border.
Kirby said the strikes destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by several Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).
Reports said that the strike targeted Imam Ali airbase near Al Bukamal, a border area near Iraq.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than a dozen pro-Iran fighters were killed.
“The strikes destroyed three lorries carrying munitions… There were many casualties. Preliminary indications are that at least 17 fighters were killed, all members of Popular Mobilisation Forces,” SOHR director Rami Abdul Rahman, said.
The group said all the dead were from the Hashed al-Shaabi, an umbrella organisation that includes KH and KSS.
The United States move came after an attack nearly two weeks ago on the main military base inside the airport in Erbil, which killed one foreign civilian contractor and wounded at least nine others, including an American soldier.
Foreign troops deployed as part of the US-led coalition that has helped Iraq fight the armed group ISIL (also known as ISIS) since 2014, are stationed at the site.
A shadowy group calling itself Awliya al-Dam – or the Guardians of the Blood – claimed responsibility for the attack and said it would continue to attack “occupation” American forces in Iraq.
The Pentagon statement described the US military response as “proportionate”, co-ordinated with diplomatic measures and carried out in consultation with coalition partners.
“We have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” it said.
“We are confident with the target we went for. We know what we did,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said. “We are confident that the target was being used by the same Shia militia that conducted the strikes.”
A February 15 rocket attack on coalition forces near the Erbil International Airport in Iraqi Kurdistan killed a civilian contractor and injured nine others, including four American contractors and one member of the US military who went through concussion protocol. That day, about 14 rockets were fired toward US and coalition forces in Erbil, in northern Iraq. At the time, Psaki said Biden and his administration “reserve the right to respond in a manner and at a time of our choosing.”
She warned that “we will respond in a way that’s calculated on our timetable, and using a mix of tools, seen and unseen.”
“What we will not do, and what we’ve seen in the past, is lash out and risk an escalation that plays into the hands of Iran by further destabilizing Iraq, and that is our priority,” Psaki added.
That attack was the first of three that came in rapid succession.
Over the weekend, at least four rockets struck Balad Air Base north of Baghdad, where a US defence company works on Iraqi combat aircraft.
Then on Monday, two rockets landed in Baghdad’s international zone, where many foreign embassies are located. There were no reports of injuries or damage.