By TARA COPP, LOLITA C. BALDOR and ABDULRAHMAN ZEYAD (Associated Press)
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. navy launched an air assault on dozens of web sites in Iraq and Syria utilized by Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Friday, within the opening salvo of retaliation for the drone strike that killed three U.S. troops in Jordan final weekend.
President Joe Biden mentioned in an announcement: “The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”
Biden and different high U.S. leaders had been warning for days that America would strike again on the militias, they usually made it clear it wouldn’t be only one hit however a “tiered response” over time.
“This afternoon, at my direction, U.S. military forces struck targets at facilities in Iraq and Syria that the IRGC and affiliated militia use to attack U.S. forces,” Biden mentioned. “Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing.”
The large barrage of strikes by manned and unmanned plane hit greater than 85 targets at seven areas, together with command and management headquarters, intelligence facilities, rockets and missiles, drone and ammunition storage websites and different amenities that have been related to the militias or the IRGC’s Quds Force, the Guard’s expeditionary unit that handles Tehran’s relationship and arming of regional militias.
The strikes passed off over about half-hour, and three of the websites struck have been in Iraq and 4 have been in Syria, mentioned Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of the Joint Staff.
The U.S. strikes appeared to cease wanting straight focusing on Iran or senior leaders of the Revolutionary Guard Quds Force inside its borders, because the U.S. tries to stop the battle from escalating even additional. Iran has denied it was behind the Jordan assault. But National Security Council spokesman John Kirby mentioned the targets “were carefully selected to avoid civilian casualties and based on clear, irrefutable evidence that they were connected to attacks on U.S. personnel in the region.”
U.S. Central Command mentioned the strikes used greater than 125 precision munitions, they usually have been delivered by quite a few plane, together with long-range B-1 bombers flown from the United States.
Two Iraqi militia officers who spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t licensed to talk to journalists mentioned that three homes used as headquarters have been focused in al-Qaim, Iraq, together with a weapons storage space. An operations headquarters of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias, in Akashat, Iraq, and weapons shops have been focused.
The assault got here got here simply hours after Biden and high protection leaders joined grieving households to observe because the stays of the three Army Reserve troopers have been returned to the U.S. at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
It was unclear what the following steps will probably be, or whether or not the times of U.S. warnings have despatched militia members scattering into hiding, making it tougher to detect and strike them. But it was evident that the current assertion launched by Kataeb Hezbollah, one of many fundamental Iran-backed militias, saying it was suspending assaults on American troops had no influence on the administration’s plans.
Just Friday morning, Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi reiterated earlier guarantees by Tehran to probably retaliate for any U.S. strikes focusing on its pursuits. We “will not start a war, but if a country, if a cruel force wants to bully us, the Islamic Republic of Iran will give a strong response,” Raisi mentioned.
In an announcement this week, Kataib Hezbollah introduced “the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government.” But Harakat al-Nujaba, one of many different main Iran-backed teams, vowed Friday to proceed navy operations towards U.S. troops.
The U.S. has blamed the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a broad coalition of Iran-backed militias, for the lethal assault in Jordan, however has not but narrowed it right down to a selected group. Kataeb Hezbollah is, nonetheless, a high suspect.
Some of the militias have been a menace to U.S. bases for years, however the teams intensified their assaults within the wake of Israel’s struggle with Hamas following the Oct. 7 assault on Israel that killed 1,200 individuals and noticed 250 others taken hostage. The struggle has led to the deaths of greater than 27,000 Palestinians within the Gaza Strip, and has infected the Middle East.
Iran-backed militia teams all through the area have used the battle to justify hanging Israeli or U.S. pursuits, together with threatening civilian business ships and U.S. warships within the Red Sea area with drones or missiles in virtually day by day exchanges.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mentioned that “this is a dangerous moment in the Middle East.” He added, “We will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our interests and our people. And we will respond when we choose, where we choose and how we choose.”
“At this point, it’s time to take away even more capability than we’ve taken in the past,” Austin mentioned.
As of Tuesday, Iran-backed militia teams had launched 166 assaults on U.S. navy installations since Oct. 18, together with 67 in Iraq, 98 in Syria and now one in Jordan, in line with a U.S. navy official. The final assault was Jan. 29 at at al-Asad airbase in Iraq, and there have been no accidents or harm.
The U.S., in the meantime, has bolstered defenses on the base in Jordan that was attacked by the ran-backed militants on Sunday, in line with a U.S. official.
And the Israeli navy mentioned its Arrow protection system intercepted a missile that approached the nation from the Red Sea, elevating suspicion it was launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The rebels didn’t instantly declare accountability.
A U.S. official additionally mentioned the navy had taken extra self-defense strikes inside Yemen Friday towards Houthi navy targets deemed an imminent menace. Al-Masirah, a Houthi-run satellite tv for pc information channel, mentioned that British and American forces performed three strikes within the northern Yemeni province of Hajjah, a Houthi stronghold.
While earlier U.S. responses in Iraq and Syria have been extra restricted, the assault on Tower 22, because the Jordan outpost is thought, and the deaths of the three service members has crossed a line, the official mentioned.
That drone assault, which additionally injured greater than 40 service members — largely Army National Guard — was the primary to end in U.S. fight deaths from the Iran-backed militias because the struggle between Israel and Hamas broke out. Tower 22 homes about 350 U.S. troops and sits close to the demilitarized zone on the border between Jordan and Syria. The Iraqi border is barely 6 miles (10 kilometers) away.
Also on Friday, the U.S. Treasury imposed new sanctions on a community of companies in Iran and Hong Kong which are accused of aiding Iran procure know-how to make ballistic weapons and drones. And the U.S. hit six Iranian officers with sanctions for allegedly committing a sequence of malicious cyber actions towards crucial infrastructure within the U.S. and different nations.
Aamer Mahdani and Fatima Hussein contributed from Washington, D.C. Abdulrahman Zeyad and Qassim Abdul-Zahra reported from Baghdad, Jon Gambrell reported from Jerusalem and Ahmed al-Haj contributed from Yemen.