- The Washington Times - Friday, February 26, 2021

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets dropped seven precision-guided munitions Thursday during airstrikes on a remote compound in eastern Syria used by Iranian-backed militias.

The strikes destroyed nine buildings in a compound along the border and damaged two others, Pentagon officials confirmed on Friday. The mission was in response to recent rocket attacks targeting American and allied forces in Iraq and to defend against ongoing threats from the Kait’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) militant groups.

“This location is known to facilitate Iranian-aligned militia group activity,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters. 

Mr. Kirby said he couldn’t confirm how many people on the ground were killed or wounded because the battle-damage assessment was still ongoing.

While some lawmakers have complained they didn’t know about the mission until afterwards, Pentagon officials said congressional leadership was notified before the strikes. Individual senators and U.S. representatives along with their staff were being briefed on Friday.

“There will be a full classified briefing early next week,” Mr. Kirby said.

Pentagon officials wouldn’t say where the U.S. mission originated. 

“The targets were chosen carefully — very deliberately — and struck in exactly the same manner,” Mr. Kirby said.

The Biden administration cited Article II of the Constitution — which identifies the president as commander-in-chief of the military — and Article 15 of the U.N. Charter in defending the mission’s legality under domestic and international law. 

“International law gives nations involved in operations the right to self defense,” Mr. Kirby said. “This really was a defensive strike meant to help protect in the future American forces and coalition partners given what we knew about what those structures were used for.”

The compound was a way station for militant groups like KH and KSS traveling from Syria into Iraq, officials said.

“We’re confident that these were legitimate targets that were utilized by groups associated with these recent attacks,” Mr. Kirby said.

The airstrikes were the end result of an investigation conducted by Iraqi military officials that began following a Feb. 13, 2021, barrage that landed three rockets in and around Erbil International Airport. The blast killed a civilian U.S. contractor — not an American citizen — and wounded a U.S. service member.

“It was very much a team effort. (Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin) was very sincere when he praised our Iraqi partners for the investigative and intelligence work that they did. There was some very good work done on the intelligence side that helped lead to this successful strike,” Mr. Kirby said. “We offered support and assistance. We were able to provide some information to their investigative process that helped.”

While U.S. officials say they’re confident Iran has been supporting the militia groups targeting American troops in Iraq, they said Thursday’s strike also was meant to send a broader message.

“We will defend ourselves. We will protect our interests and certainly act to protect our people and the forces of our allies and partners,” Mr. Kirby said. “That is an unambiguous and clear message to anyone in the region about what the stakes are if you’re going to continue to conduct attacks on our people and the Iraqi people,”

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