The strikes are the Army’s first known action under President Joe Biden. The site was not specifically linked to missile attacks, but was believed to have been used by Iranian-backed Shiite militias operating in the region.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the strikes were “ordered by President Biden” and were mandated to respond not only to recent attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, but also to “ongoing threats to these personnel.”
Kirby said Biden carried out the strikes after consultation with US allies, including coalition partners.
“Specifically, the strikes destroyed several facilities at a border checkpoint used by a number of Iranian-backed armed groups, including Kait’ib Hezbollah and Kait’ib Sayyid al Shuhada,” Kirbry said. “The operation sends a clear message; President Biden will act to protect U.S. coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted deliberately to reduce the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.”
The site is believed to be being used as part of a militia arms smuggling operation. The strikes were carried out to undermine the groups ’ability to carry out future attacks and send a message about recent attacks, the U.S. official said.
The Syrian site was targeted “from the top down,” a defense official said, not because of a specific recommendation from the military.
The strikes occur as Washington and Tehran enter into negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, which could complicate an already fragile process.
The United States did not definitively accuse any specific group of the missile attacks and did not attribute them to any Iranian envoy in the region, but the administration made it clear where the accusation was made.
Earlier this week, White House spokesman Jen Psaki said the United States would hold Iran accountable for the actions of its agents.
On February 15, a rocket attack on coalition forces near Erbil International Airport in Kurdistan, Iraq, killed a civilian entrepreneur and wounded four U.S. entrepreneurs and a U.S. service member. At the time, Psaki said Biden and the administration “reserve the right to respond at our discretion and in a timely manner.”
“We will respond in a way calculated according to our schedule and using a number of visible and invisible means,” Psaki told reporters a day after Biden spoke to the Iraqi prime minister. The debate has largely focused on missile attacks. “What we are not going to do, and what we have seen in the past, spoils and risks an escalation that will fall into Iran’s hands by further destabilizing Iran, and that is our priority,” Psaki added.
U.S. strikes occur as Washington and Tehran enter into negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, complicating an already fragile process.
The administration has made clear where they blame the attacks, which took place amid heightened concern that Iran or its agents will retaliate against the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.
“We have previously stated that we will hold Iran responsible for its agents attacking the Americans,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price said Monday, noting that “many of these attacks used Iranian-made weapons delivered by Iran.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh has denied any involvement in the February 15 Erbil attack, and Iran has not claimed responsibility for the other strikes. “While these rumors are firmly rejected, the dubious attempt attributed to Iran is also strongly condemned,” Khatibzadeh said in a February 16 report by Iran’s state official news agency Mehr.
This story will be updated broken