The United States has carried out airstrikes in Iraq targeting facilities used by “Iranian-backed militias” in the country following repeated attacks on US forces, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement on Tuesday (local time).
The strikes targeted three facilities used by Iranian-backed ‘Kataib Hezbollah’ and other Tehran-affiliated groups in Iraq.
Austin said that the strikes “are in direct response to a series of escalatory attacks against US and coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria” by Iranian-backed militia groups. US Central Command also released a statement on Tuesday saying US forces “conducted unilateral airstrikes” targeting “KH headquarters, storage, and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities,” CNN reported.
According to a US defence official, the strikes were carried out at two sites in western Iraq, including Al-Qa’im near the Syrian border and Jurf al-Sakhar south of Baghdad.
“I am grateful for both the skill and professionalism with which our personnel planned and conducted these strikes and the continued efforts of our troops on the ground as they work with regional partners to further dismantle and degrade ISIS,” Austin stated.
“The President and I will not hesitate to take the necessary action to defend them and our interests. We do not seek to escalate conflict in the region. We are fully prepared to take further measures to protect our people and our facilities. We call on these groups and their Iranian sponsors to immediately cease these attacks,” he added.
The strikes come just days after US personnel at Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq were injured in a ballistic missile and rocket attack on the base. While most missiles and rockets were intercepted by the base’s air defences, some projectiles made an impact, CNN reported, citing US Central Command.
As per the initial assessment, Kataib Hezbollah was responsible for the ballistic missile attack, the defence official said.
Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday that a total of four US troops were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury as a result of the attack, and all had since returned to duty.
The strikes on Tuesday are the first in Iraq since the beginning of the month, when the US targeted a member of an Iranian proxy group operating in the country who one US official said had “US blood on his hands.”
They also come after multiple strikes against the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen over the last week and a half, as the US looks to rein in the aggressive actions of Iranian-backed groups in the Middle East amid heightened tensions in the region.
According to CNN, the US forces in Iraq and Syria have come under attack at least 151 times since attacks began on October 17, according to a US official — 10 days after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7.
Although, the officials have not directly connected the two situations, the ongoing attacks on US forces have fed into heightened tensions and concerns about broader conflict breaking out in the region, particularly when coupled with the regular attacks on commercial shipping by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
“We’ve continued to see attacks on our forces since October 17 in Iraq and Syria. The attack that we saw over the weekend was just a larger scale attack,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said Monday. “But again, we don’t seek conflict, we don’t want to see this widen out to a regional war, we don’t want … to continue to see our forces being put at risk.”
The US has carried out a number of strikes in Iraq and Syria in response to the attacks on coalition forces, placing blame squarely on Iran for supporting the militia groups carrying out the attacks, CNN reported.
Last October, following US airstrikes on facilities linked to Iranian-backed militias, a senior defence official said Tehran was “the centre of gravity” for the attacks and that “Iranian fingerprints are all over this.”
“Tehran and Iranian senior leaders are funding, arming, equipping, training and directing a whole plethora of militia groups across the region, and they have escalated attacks against US forces since October 17, which is why we took self-defense action,” the official said.
While the attacks in Iraq and Syria have been ongoing, the US has also been managing regular attacks by the Houthis in Yemen on commercial shipping.
The strikes on Tuesday followed strikes on the Houthis on Monday, carried out by the US and UK, which a senior official said were successful in striking weapons storage sites, drone systems, and missiles.
It was the eighth round of strikes on the Houthis by the US military in roughly 10 days, as reported by CNN.