US launches retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria

(CNN) — The United States is launching strikes against targets in Iraq and Syria, according to two US officials, possibly the last of a series of large-scale US operations targeting Iranian-backed groups that attack US military personnel in the Middle East. It is the beginning. usa

Syrian state television reported overnight that several people were killed and injured following US strikes this Friday in Syria near the border with Iraq. However, he did not give further details.

Air Force B-1 bombers were among the platforms used in Friday’s operation, a defense official told CNN. The B-1 is a long-range heavy bomber that can deploy precision and non-precision weapons.

The retaliatory strikes came in response to a drone bombing carried out by Iranian-backed militants on a US military post in Jordan last Sunday, which killed three US service members and injured more than 40 others.

Pentagon broadcast March 3, 2022. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The action came hours after US President Joe Biden attended a memorial ceremony and met with relatives of three soldiers killed in Jordan.

Officials have noted that these strikes are likely to be more significant than previous operations against Iranian-backed groups in recent weeks, which have focused primarily on weapons storage or training facilities. But the government must maintain a delicate balance: It wants to deter and prevent new attacks, but also avoid triggering a full-scale conflict with Iran in a region already torn by the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Is.

The Biden administration has indicated it may take additional steps in the coming days. For his part, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that the US response would be “multi-layered.”

“We have the ability to respond multiple times depending on the situation,” he said at a Pentagon news conference.

“He has a lot of potential. I have a lot more,” Austin said, referring to Iran-backed groups.

CNN previously reported that Biden faces increasing pressure to respond to military deaths in a way that permanently stops attacks by armed groups.

Iran-backed groups have attacked US military facilities in Iraq and Syria more than 160 times since October, and several Republican lawmakers have called for the US to launch direct operations inside Iran to send a clear message. But government officials have made it clear that any response will be proportionate so that the situation in the region does not worsen.

“We are not expecting a war with Iran. We are not expecting a broader conflict in the Middle East,” John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, told CNN on Monday.

On Wednesday the White House said it believed a group of fighters in Iraq called the Islamic Resistance was responsible for the drone strike in Jordan.

Kirby said, “We believe the attack in Jordan was planned, financed and facilitated by a group in Iraq called the Islamic Resistance, which includes several groups including Kata’ib Hezbollah.”

Kirby declined to specifically blame Kata’ib Hezbollah, Iraq’s most powerful armed group that supports Iran, and said it was not solely responsible for previous attacks on US targets.

“Without any doubt, this attack has the characteristics of an attack carried out by Kata’ib Hezbollah,” he said. in Iraq”.

The US military has carried out several strikes on Iranian proxy groups’ weapons depots in Iraq and Syria since October, but none of those operations stopped the groups, whose 165 attacks have wounded more than 120 members of the military. US navies throughout the region.

Iran has spent years investing in these regional sister groups, known informally as the “resistance axis”, providing them with funding, weapons and training as it seeks to expand its influence in the Middle East. And wants to put pressure on the United States to withdraw from the region. ,

However, US military members have not been killed in any other attacks by proxy groups since October. Sunday’s attack marked a significant escalation, to which Biden and his national security team were forced to respond strongly.

Iran has repeatedly said it does not want conflict. On Friday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said his country would not start a war but would “respond sternly” to the attackers.

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