The United States carried out retaliatory airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria and western Iraq on Tuesday, January 23rd, after a deadly missile and drone attack on US forces in Iraq this past weekend.
Missile Attack on Iraqi Base Injures US Troops
On Saturday, January 20th, three US service members and a US contractor were injured when over a dozen rockets struck a military complex in western Iraq hosting American troops. The attack targeted the Al Asad Airbase in Iraq’s western Anbar province, a large Iraqi military base that has hosted US forces for years.
At least 12 missiles fired from Iranian-made launchers outside the base hit the southern section of the facility, damaging military equipment and infrastructure. Most of the missiles were intercepted by C-RAM defense systems, but the attack still injured four Americans. Two of the wounded US troops have returned to duty, while the other two were evacuated for medical treatment, according to officials.
This brazen assault was one of the largest against an American base in recent years. US officials believe the attack was carried out by Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq that have been increasingly targeting US troops.
|Injured in Attack
|2 US service members
|Returned to duty
|1 US service member
|Evacuated for treatment
|1 US contractor
|Evacuated for treatment
US Vows Response to Mounting Provocations
The missile strike came just days after the second anniversary of the US assassination of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad. His killing sparked outrage in Iran and saw Tehran launch missile strikes on US bases in Iraq days later.
In the two years since, Iran-aligned militias in Iraq and the region have been ramping up attacks on American interests. Drone and rocket attacks have targeted bases in Iraq and Syria hosting US forces and convoys transporting military equipment.
Prior drone attacks took place near where US forces are based in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq as well as on the al-Tanf base in southeast Syria on October 2022. Additional rockets landed inside Baghdad’s Green Zone and near the US Embassy in recent months.
The US has mainly responded to these provocations with punitive airstrikes on militia weapons depots and command centers. But Iranian proxies have only grown bolder. This latest missile salvo represented a serious escalation and inflicition of US casualties.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan quickly condemned the January 20 attack, stating that America would take “necessary and appropriate measures to deter and respond to terrorist attacks” while protecting US personnel.
Overview of US Retaliatory Strikes
True to Sullivan’s word, the US military carried out retaliatory airstrikes the evening of January 23rd, targeting facilities used by the militias believed responsible for injuring American troops over the weekend.
The US strikes hit three logistical facilities used by Iran-backed proxy groups in eastern Syria and western Iraq. These sites were used by militants to enable weapons transfers between Iraq and Syria as part of an increasing drone attack campaign targeting US bases, according to officials.
|Deir ez-Zor, Syria
|Weapons storage sites
|Al Bukamal, Syria
|Weapons logistics hub
|Al Qaim, Iraq
|Weapons transit hub
US Central Command said it deliberately chose targets that would minimize the risk of civilian harm and collateral damage while maximizing the destruction of militia logistical capabilities.
Fighter jets based in the Middle East carried out the strikes under the direction of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Further details were not immediately provided due to operational security reasons.
Iraq Condemns Attacks as Violation of Sovereignty
Iraqi leaders condemned the US airstrikes targeting the Iran-backed militias on its territory, calling the action a blatant violation of national sovereignty.
Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said he would follow up on what he called “the blatant attack” with the US government. Iraq’s foreign ministry also criticized the US strikes as an aggression and violation of the country’s authority.
Some Iraqi lawmakers have described the US military presence as illegal occupation and called for American forces to fully withdraw. Powerful Iran-aligned Shiite parties hold considerable sway in Iraq’s parliament.
The US currently has around 2,000 troops in Iraq focused on countering the remnants of the Islamic State jihadi group under a security agreement with Baghdad. But their presence also aims to counterbalance neighboring Iran’s extensive influence in the country.
Tehran backs a web of Iraqi militia groups as part of its regional proxies targeting the US and its partners. These well-armed brigades operate outside government control and have access to advanced weaponry like long-range drones and guided missiles.
Further Escalation Possible as Iran Seeks Revenge
While the US air raids may temporarily disrupt the capabilities of Iran’s regional proxies, security analysts expect further escalation and retaliation in the long-running shadow war between Washington and Tehran.
Iranian leaders and military commanders are vowing to retaliate for the killing of General Soleimani two years ago. The recent uptick in attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria is likely part of this revenge campaign targeting America and its regional security partners.
Groups like Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq operate with guidance from Iran’s elite Quds Force, which Soleimani commanded for over 20 years. Dozens of missile attacks and drone strikes targeting US bases have been claimed by obscure militias believed tied to Tehran.
With Iran and its allies growing more aggressive and US President Joe Biden facing pressure to deter attacks endangering American lives, the stage is set for a dangerous escalation spiral. Unless serious diplomacy defuses tensions, proxies on both sides will likely unleash further violence and brinkmanship across multiple regional hotspots.
This breaking news analysis drew on the listed news reports regarding the latest developments in Iraq. The assessment provides context around the recent missile attack, US retaliation, condemnation by Iraqi officials, and potential for further escalation between American forces and Iran-backed militias in the region. Relevant background details, damage estimates, and expert analysis were incorporated from the news articles.
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