U.S. military forces launched airstrikes near the border of Syria and Iraq on Sunday against Iran-backed militia groups, the attacks coming as the Biden administration continues its efforts to revive the disastrous 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
According to the Pentagon, the “defensive” airstrikes were in response to drone attacks on American assets and were intended “to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message.”
Operational and weapons storage facilities — two located in Syria and one in Iraq — used by at least two militias, Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, were targeted, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
“We are in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq for the sole purpose of assisting the Iraqi Security Forces in their efforts to defeat ISIS,” Kirby said. “The United States took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation – but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message.”
(Video: Fox News)
Iraq’s Ministry of Defense reportedly condemned the airstrikes as “a blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and Iraqi national security in accordance with international conventions.”
There have reportedly been five drone attacks on U.S. facilities and personnel in Iraq since April — there are currently 2,500 American troops deployed in the country.
Ordered by President Joe Biden, the strikes were carried out by U.S. F-15s and F-16s, and follow a February attack on Iranian-backed militias, reportedly in retaliation for a strike that killed an American contractor.
The fourteenth brigade of the Popular Mobilization Forces, made up of Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada members, said four of its fighters were killed Sunday, according to NBC News. The brigade is an umbrella group for a number of Iran-backed militias in Iraq. The BBC cited the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights to say five militia fighters were killed in the strikes.
Lawrence J. Korb, the senior fellow at American Progress Action Fund and a former assistant secretary of defense, told Al Jazeera the president was essentially “serving notice” to the Iranian government.
“The first time he used military force was about a month after he was inaugurated,” Korb said. “I think it was no accident that he did it then to send that signal to Iran. The fact that he’s doing it now while they are about to undergo the seventh round of talks on the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] is him saying: ‘Just because we are there, it doesn’t mean we are going to ignore [these other problems].”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was quick to support Biden’s decision, even though she condemned the Jan. 2020 airstrike order by former President Trump that killed Iranian Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani, claiming at the time that it was “provoking further dangerous escalation of violence.”
The speaker called Sunday’s airstrikes a “proportional response to a serious and specific threat. The Iran-backed militias utilizing these facilities have been engaged in attacks threatening US [service members],” Fox News reporter Chad Pergram tweeted.
Pelosi on US airstrikes on facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups near Iraq-Syria border. Says this is a “proportional response to a serious and specific threat. The Iran-backed militias utilizing these facilities have been engaged in attacks threatening US servicembrs”
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) June 28, 2021
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who was critical of Trump for not getting congressional approval for the Jan. 2020 strike, took on a far more conciliatory posture with Biden.
In a statement released on Twitter late Sunday, Murphy let it be known there was no notice given by the Biden administration, explaining that he expected “to be briefed tomorrow.”
I expect to be briefed tomorrow on the air strikes on the Iraq-Syria border. My statement tonight. pic.twitter.com/iSLBGUOAb2
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) June 28, 2021
“There is no doubt that President Biden possesses the ability to defend our forces aboard, and I continue to trust inherently the national security instincts of this White House,” he added, before expressing concern that “the pace of activity directed at U.S forces and the repeated retaliatory strikes against Iranian proxy forces are starting to look like what would qualify as a pattern of hostilities under the War Powers Act.”
In Jan. 2020, Murphy questioned whether Trump had the legal justification to order the attack on the terrorist leader Soleimani, expressing concern that it may “get more Americans, not less Americans, killed.”
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