The US said on Sunday that it conducted another wave of air strikes on Iran-backed militia in Iraq and Syria, this time in response to drone assaults by the militia on US soldiers and infrastructure in Iraq.
The US military said in a statement that it targeted operational and weapons storage sites in two locations in Syria and one in Iraq. It did not say whether anybody was killed or injured, but officials said investigations were underway.
The strikes came at the direction of President Joe Biden, the second time he has ordered retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed militia since taking office five months ago. Biden last ordered limited strikes in Syria in February, that time in response to rocket attacks in Iraq.
“As demonstrated by this evening’s strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
The strikes came even as Biden’s administration is looking to potentially revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The decision to retaliate appears to show how Biden aims to compartmentalize such defensive strikes, while simultaneously engaging Tehran in diplomacy.
Biden’s critics say Iran cannot be trusted and point to the drone attacks as further evidence that Iran and its proxies will never accept a U.S. military presence in Iraq or Syria.
On Sunday, Biden and the White House declined to comment on the strikes. However, on Monday, Biden will meet with Israel’s outgoing president, Reuven Rivlin, at the White House for a comprehensive conversation that will include Iran and US efforts to re-enter the Iran nuclear agreement. These activities have sparked deep alarm in Israel, Iran’s arch-foe.
Officials in the United States think Iran is behind an increase in highly sophisticated drone strikes and occasional rocket fire against US soldiers and installations in Iraq, where the US military has been assisting Baghdad in combating the Islamic State’s remnants.
Two U.S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Iran-backed militias carried out at least five drone attacks against facilities used by U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq since April.
The Pentagon said the facilities targeted were used by Iran-backed militia including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
One of the facilities targeted was used to launch and recover the drones, a defense official said.
The U.S. military carried out strikes with F-15 and F-16 aircraft, officials said, adding the pilots made it back from the mission safely.
“We assess each strike hit the intended targets,” one of the officials told Reuters.
Iraq’s government is struggling to deal with militias ideologically aligned with Iran which are accused of rocket fire against U.S. forces and of involvement in killing peaceful pro-democracy activists.
Earlier in June, Iraq released Iran-aligned militia commander Qasim Muslih, who was arrested in May on terrorism-related charges, after authorities found insufficient evidence against him.