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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden directed airstrikes on Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region in response to unmanned aerial vehicle attacks, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement Sunday.

Details: U.S. military forces conducted the "defensive precision airstrikes" against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the region on Sunday evening, said Kirby, who stressed the U.S. strikes were legal and in self-defense.

  • "The targets were selected because these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq," he added.
  • "Specifically, the U.S. strikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries. Several Iran-backed militia groups, including Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), used these facilities."

Driving the news: Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Jessica McNulty said in an emailed statement that Iran-backed militias "have conducted at least five one-way UAV attacks against facilities used by U.S. and Coalition personnel in Iraq since April as well as ongoing rocket attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces."

  • "The strikes were necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation," she added.
"Through these and other means, we seek to make clear to Iran and Iran-backed militia groups that there will be serious consequences if they continue to attack, or to arm, fund, and train militia groups that attack our people. We will take necessary and appropriate measures to defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region."
— McNulty
  • Biden said in February when he directed U.S. military forces to strike Iran-backed militia groups that he wanted to warn the Iranian government that it "can't act with impunity."

Of note: McNulty said it's too early to assess whether there had been any casualties.

  • British monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said "at least five Iran-backed Iraqi militia fighters were killed and several others were wounded in an attack by U.S. warplanes" on Syria's side of the border, per AFP.

The big picture: The airstrikes come at a time of heightened tension between the U.S. and Iran, as the two nations hold talks on returning Tehran to the 2015 nuclear deal.

What to watch: Senators will consider repealing the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq after the House backed the action earlier this month.

  • Biden declined to comment to reporters on the latest airstrikes after returning to the White House Sunday evening from a weekend at Camp David, telling reporters: "I'll talk to you tomorrow," CNN notes.

During a press briefing Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the administration was "confident" in its legal justification for the airstrikes, pursuant to Article II of the Constitution, which allows the president to authorize the use of force to defend U.S. personnel.

  • Psaki added that prior to the strikes the White House notified appropriate members of congress and staff, and are "in touch" with partners in the region.
  • The strikes were intended to "limit the risk of escalation" in the region, Psaki added.
  • "The president takes legal authority and justification for military action quite seriously. And certainly we consult our legal teams to ensure we have that justification. And we certainly feel confident we do," Psaki said.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

Go deeper

Sep 22, 2021 - World

Iran officials ready to restart nuclear talks with world powers

Ebrahim Raisi addresses the participants via video conference at the 76th session of United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 21. Photo: Iranian Presidency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Iranian officials said Tuesday they expect nuclear talks with world powers to resume in the "next few weeks," but they signaled they would take a tougher stance against the U.S, per the state-run IRNA news agency.

Why it matters: The talks to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal have been stalled since June, when hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi was elected to office.

Sep 22, 2021 - World

Scoop: Russia seeks trilateral talks with U.S. and Israel on Syria

Secretaries Blinken (left) and Lavrov. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry\TASS via Getty

Russia has asked Israel to encourage the U.S. to agree to hold high-level trilateral talks on Syria, two senior Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Israel's main focus in Syria is getting Iran out, and that would likely only be possible through U.S.-Russian cooperation. 

House passes $768 billion defense spending bill

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The House approved a $768 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the 2022 fiscal year in a bipartisan 316-113 vote on Thursday.

Why it matters: The annual bill, which authorizes Pentagon spending levels and guides policy for the department, would require women to register for the military draft, among other provisions.