In retaliation for the several rocket attacks against the U.S. Embassy and American bases in Iraq President Biden ordered the Pentagon to conduct a number of limited airstrikes against Iranian-led militias in Syria. 

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the following:

“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. These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq and to ongoing threats to [that] personnel. Specifically, the strikes destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).

This proportionate military response was conducted 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.”

The airstrikes targeted structures in the eastern Syrian town of Al Bukamal. They were limited in scope and carried out only in Syria and not Iraq. This was done in the hopes of reducing the threat of escalation.

American fighter jets conducting the operation dropped seven 500-pound precision bombs on seven targets, a defense official said. All of the bombs hit their targets located near a border crossing used by the militia groups to move rockets, weapons, and other goods across from Syria into Iraq.

Earlier this week, rockets had targeted the American Embassy in the Green Zone of Baghdad causing little property damage. An earlier rocket strike against a base that houses U.S. contractors and military personnel in Erbil had resulted in several killed, including a U.S. contractor. Washington and Baghdad condemned the attacks, while the Iraqis continue to investigate them.

Many view President Biden’s choice to only attack Iranian-led militias in Syria as a way to let the Iraqis finish their own investigation. But Kata’ib Hezbollah has carried out dozens of rocket attacks on bases that house American troops and contractors. 

Kata’ib Hezbollah operates in both Iraq and Syria, ostensibly as a counter-terrorist force against Islamic State forces. But its allegiance lies first to Tehran rather than the host nation. In Syria, the U.S. supports and fights alongside the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) troops who are opposed to the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.

While Tehran and Washington continue to spar around restarting the talks that will restart the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the airstrikes are the first sign that the administration will hold Tehran responsible for its proxy militias’ actions.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday that “many of these attacks have used Iranian made, Iranian supplied weapons.” 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday night, “We’re confident in the target we went after. We know what we hit. We’re confident that target was being used by the same Shia militia that conducted the strikes.”

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