The Biden administration conducted a series of airstrikes against Iran-backed militia groups in eastern Syria and western Iraq on Monday in retaliation for a drone attack on a military base in Iraqi Kurdistan that injured three U.S. service members.
U.S. Service Members Injured in Drone Attack
On Saturday, three U.S. service members were lightly injured when rockets struck a base hosting American forces near the Kurdish capital of Erbil. U.S. officials blamed the attack on militias aligned with Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
The attack involved as many as 15 small drones loaded with explosive charges, including some that appeared to have failed to detonate on impact. The drones appear to have been launched from trucks south of Erbil, according to a U.S. official.
General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, who leads the U.S. Central Command, said the attack “was orchestrated by Iran-backed extremist groups,” adding that the United States “will respond at a time and place of our choosing.”
U.S. Retaliates With Airstrikes
On Monday, the U.S. responded by conducting precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militias in Deir ez-Zor, Syria and Al Qaim, Iraq.
The strikes targeted infrastructure facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). According to the Pentagon, the groups targeted included Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
“The president gave the direction for these strikes pursuant to his Article II authority to protect and defend U.S. personnel by disrupting or deterring attacks by Iran-backed groups,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
U.S. Central Command said the strikes resulted in the destruction of bunkers, warehouses and facilities used to store weapons. Initial assessments indicate that two or three militia members were killed in the strikes.
Iraq Condemns U.S. Attack
The Iraqi government strongly condemned the U.S. airstrikes, calling them a “blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty and national security.” Iraq’s foreign ministry said it would summon the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad to deliver a diplomatic complaint.
Pro-Iran factions in Iraq also condemned the attack, with one militia commander saying that “the United States made a tragic mistake by striking the positions of heroic Iraqi resistance factions.”
Some Iraqi politicians warned that the strikes could destabilize security in Iraq and prompt retaliation from Iran-backed groups against U.S. forces.
Background of U.S.-Iran Tensions
The latest strikes come amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran.
In recent months, Iran-backed militias have increased rocket and drone attacks against sites in Iraq hosting U.S. forces. The militias have vowed revenge for the 2020 U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
|Timeline of Recent Attacks
|Oct 2022: Militia drones targeted Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates
|Nov 2022: Rockets targeted the U.S. consulate in Erbil
|Dec 2022: A dozen rockets targeted a Iraqi military base hosting U.S. forces
The attacks are part of Iran’s strategy to pressure the U.S. and its regional allies without provoking an overwhelming military response. However, miscalculations on either side could spark a dangerous escalation.
Iran-backed groups are likely to continue low-level attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq using hard-to-defend drones and rockets. At the same time, the U.S. appears committed to retaliating against attacks on its personnel.
U.S. officials have warned that they are prepared to take additional action if necessary to defend its forces. However, the Biden administration also wants to avoid getting drawn into a spiral of strikes and counter-strikes that could undermine Iraq’s stability.
For now, the U.S. is likely to continue surveillance and defensive measures to protect its troops in Iraq while carrying out occasional retaliatory strikes. However, a more serious attack could prompt a tougher U.S. response.
Much depends on Iran’s next moves. If Iran reins in its proxies to avoid provoking the U.S., tensions could de-escalate. But if attacks persist, the risk grows that hardliners on both sides could stumble into a direct confrontation that nobody wants.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.