US Carries Out Airstrike in Syria Against Iranian-Backed Militia

President Joe Biden delivers remarks to State Department staff, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(CN) — In his first military action in office, President Joe Biden Thursday evening ordered a retaliatory airstrike on facilities in Syria used by Iranian-backed militia forces following rocket attacks made against U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

An Iraqi militia official told the Associated Press on Friday that one member of the group was killed and several others were wounded.

The Pentagon called it a “defensive precision strike” in a statement, saying that U.S. forces “conducted airstrikes against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria.”

“These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said. “Specifically, the strikes destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kait’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).”

The strikes were carried out by American forces alone, but Kirby said it was done “together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with Coalition partners.”

“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” Kirby said.

A Shiite militant group known as Saraya Awliya al-Dam, or Guardians of Blood Brigade took credit for a Feb. 15 rocket attack outside the city of Irbil in Iraq. Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups have made several other attacks against U.S. forces and facilities in Iraq. Iran denied any involvement with the Guardians of Blood Brigade.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declined to go into detail about the airstrikes, but said, “I’m confident in the target that we went after. We know what we hit.”

“We’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the strikes,” he said, referring to the Feb. 15 attack.

He added that he recommended the strike to President Biden.

“We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin said. “We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”

Kirby told reporters Thursday that Iraq is investigating the rocket attack and would discuss the airstrikes in further detail later.

“Right now, we’re not able to give you a certain attribution as to who was behind these attacks, what groups, and I’m not going to get into the tactical details of every bit of weaponry used here,” Kirby said. “Let’s let the investigations complete and conclude, and then when we have more to say, we will.”

Relations between Iran and the U.S. floundered under the Trump administration after former President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal. In 2020, Trump ordered the drone strike killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Only 2,500 U.S. forces still remain in Iraq and do not participate in combat missions.

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