Updated Feb 3, 2024 - World

U.S. launches retaliatory strikes on Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria

A view of destruction after the US warplanes carried out an airstrike on the headquarters of Hashd al-Shaabi in Al-Qa'im city of Anbar, Iraq

A view of destruction after the U.S. warplanes carried out an air strike on the headquarters of Hashd al-Shaabi in Al-Qa'im city of Anbar, Iraq. Photo: Hashd al-Shaabi Media Office/Handout/Anadolu via Getty Images

The U.S. on Friday began striking Iran-linked targets in Syria and Iraq in response to last weekend's deadly attack on U.S. forces in Jordan, the U.S. Central Command said.

The big picture: While President Biden faced pressure from some lawmakers to strike inside Iran, U.S. officials have stressed the administration does not want to see a wider war in the region.

  • The retaliatory strikes, which were launched at Biden's direction and are expected to last several days, hit 85 targets linked to Iran or Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq, the U.S. said.
  • They came nearly a week after the U.S. says an Iran-backed militia killed three American soldiers and wounded more than 40 others in a drone attack near the Jordan-Syria border.

What they're saying: President Biden said the U.S. response to last weekend's attack "began today" and will "continue at times and places of our choosing."

  • "The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world," he added. "But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond."

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reiterated in a separate statement that Friday's strikes were only the "start of our response."

  • "The president has directed additional actions to hold the IRGC and affiliated militias accountable for their attacks on U.S. and Coalition Forces," Austin added.
  • "We will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our forces, and our interests."

Details: CENTCOM said the strikes hit targets linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militia groups in Iraq and Syria.

  • "The facilities that were struck included command and control operations, centers, intelligence centers, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aired vehicle storages, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces," CENTCOM said in a statement.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing with reporters on Friday that the strikes were directed at three areas in Iraq and four areas in Syria.

  • Kirby said the U.S. doesn't know how many militants were killed or wounded but the Pentagon was conducting an assessment of the results. "[W]e believe it was successful," Kirby said.
  • He said the targets were chosen based on intelligence that linked them to attacks against U.S. forces and after it was determined there were no civilians in the area.
  • Kirby added the U.S. notified the Iraqi government ahead of the strikes but didn't have any contact with the Iranian government.

The Iraqi government, however, said there was no prior coordination between the U.S. and Iraq.

  • It is a "false claim with the intent of misleading international public opinion," the Iraqi government said.
  • Iraq summoned the chargé d'affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to deliver a letter of protest.
  • The Iraqi government said 16 people were killed and 25 were wounded in the U.S. strikes. It added the international coalition against ISIS "deviated" from its task and mandate in a way that endangers the security of Iraq.

The Syrian military said soldiers and civilians were killed in the U.S. strikes in Syria.

  • The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 members of pro-Iranian militias were killed in Syria.
  • The Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the U.S. strikes and called them a strategic mistake.
  • The Islamic Resistance, an umbrella framework for several pro-Iranian militia groups, said late Friday that it attacked two U.S. bases in Syria and one U.S. base in Iraq in retaliation for the U.S. strikes.

Zoom out: The Pentagon says there have been more than 160 attacks by Iranian-linked militia groups targeting U.S. bases and forces in the Middle East since Oct. 7.

  • Last weekend's attack in Jordan was the first such attack to kill American soldiers.
  • The attacks have increasingly drawn the U.S. more directly involved in the Middle East crisis, with the U.S. previously striking targets in Syria and Iran and a U.S.-led coalition striking Houthi targets in Yemen.
  • But U.S. officials are also working to contain the risk of an all-out regional war as tensions rise across the Middle East.

What to watch: Russia's Foreign Ministry said Friday's U.S. strikes have created chaos in the Middle East and called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council.

  • Separately. Secretary of State Tony Blinken will make his fifth trip to the region next week, with stops in Israel, the occupied West Bank, Qatar, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the State Department said on Friday.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comments throughout

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