The US military has confirmed that it carried out an airstrike in eastern Syria on February 25, local time, targeting “facilities used by Iranian-backed militias”, according to the latest report from the Associated Press. The strikes were the first military action taken by U.S. President Joe Biden since taking office.
The report notes that the Pentagon said the attack was in retaliation for rocket attacks in Iraq earlier this month. That attack killed a civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition soldiers.
The strikes were the first military action taken by Mr. Biden’s administration. In its first weeks in office, Mr. Biden’s administration has emphasized that the new administration intends to focus more on the challenge posed by China, even as threats from the Middle East persist.
The Associated Press said Biden’s decision to strike in Syria did not appear to signal an intent to expand U.S. military involvement in the region, but rather a willingness to defend U.S. forces in Iraq.
“I’m confident in our target, we know what we hit,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on a flight from California to Washington.
Speaking shortly after the strike, Mr. Austin added, “We are confident that the Shiite militants who carried out the attack used this target.” He was referring to a February 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq that killed a civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition personnel.
Mr. Austin said he advised Mr. Biden to carry out airstrikes. “We have said many times that we will respond in our timetable,” he said. We want to make sure we have the right target.”
Earlier, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. action was an ‘appropriate military response’ coupled with diplomatic measures, including consultations with coalition partners.
“This operation sends a clear message: President Biden will take action to protect American and coalition personnel,” Kirby said. At the same time, we have taken deliberate action aimed at de-escalating the situation in eastern Syria and Iraq as a whole.”
Further details about the airstrike were not immediately available, the Associated Press said.
Biden administration officials condemned the Feb. 15 rocket attack near the city of Erbil, a semi-autonomous region of Iraq’s Kurdish-controlled population, but recently officials said they had not determined who carried out the attack. Officials note that in the past, Iranian-backed Shiite militias have carried out rocket attacks against U.S. personnel or facilities in Iraq.
Reuters earlier reported, citing two U.S. officials, that the U.S. carried out an airstrike on Feb. 25 against a compound in Syria believed to belong to Iranian-backed militias. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the strikes were approved by U.S. President Joe Biden.
According to Syrian military sources, from late February 25 to around 0:00 local time on February 26, the border area of Abu Kamal, located in Syria’s eastern Syria and Iraq border area, was hit by several air strikes.
So far, there has been no official statement from the U.S. government about the airstrikes, the RT website noted. Separately, there were unconfirmed reports from Syria that the attack took place in the town of al-Bukamal in Deir al-Zour province, close to the border with Iraq.
A CBS correspondent says the strikes were a response to recent rocket attacks on U.S. military and contractor sites in Iraq.
Iran launched strikes against U.S. military targets in Iraq after Mohammad Suleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq early last year. For more than a year, rockets have been fired at American targets in Iraq.