President Biden on Thursday ordered U.S. airstrikes against Iran-backed militias operating inside Syria, Pentagon officials said.
The airstrikes come amid a wave of recent rocket attacks against American personnel stationed in neighboring Iraq, including one recent assault that killed a civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member. In its statement, military officials suggested that more attacks against Americans could be on the immediate horizon and that Thursday’s airstrikes were aimed at protecting U.S. interests.
“At President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted airstrikes against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. “These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel. 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).”
Kait’ib Hezbollah is believed to have been behind numerous assaults aimed at American personnel in recent years, though the group reportedly has denied involvement in the most recent string of rocket attacks.
The airstrikes come at a delicate diplomatic moment between Washington and Tehran, with the Biden administration trying to restart talks with Iran over its nuclear program. Iran, meanwhile, has brushed off the U.S. diplomatic overtures and threatened to ramp up its uranium enrichment to almost weapons-grade levels.
Even as the Biden administration vowed to always defend American personnel and interests, the Defense Department also tried to tamp down tensions between the U.S. and Iran before they spiral out of control.
“This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners,” Mr. Kirby said. “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.”
There are between 500 and 1,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria and about 2,500 in Iraq.
Iranian militias, meanwhile, have been in Syria for years on the side of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in the country’s decade-long civil war.