On Thursday, U.S. fighter jets attacked several Iranian-affiliated targets in Eastern Syria.
The aircraft dropped seven 500lb Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) on seven different targets. The Department of Defense stated the airstrikes destroyed several facilities at a border control point that Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), have been using.
“There’s not much more that I’ll be able to add at this point other than the fact that we’re confident in the target we went after, we know what we hit,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin said in a press release.“We’re confident that the target was being used by the same Shia militia that conducted the strikes.”
The airstrike came in response to a number of attacks against U.S. forces in the region. On February 15, the U.S. Base in the Erbil International Airport, Iraq, came under rocket attack, resulting in the death of a contractor and the wounding of several troops. A few days later, another attack at a U.S. base in Baghdad wounded several more contractors and troops.
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said that “At President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted airstrikes against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria. These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel. This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with Coalition partners. The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq.”
The Pentagon picked these particular targets because of their connection with the Iranian-backed groups suspected of facilitating or perpetrating the attacks against US forces in Iraq. There are approximately 2,500 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, helping the Iraqi Army in its fight against the Islamic State as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.
“We are very deliberative in our approach as you would expect us to be. We allowed and encouraged the Iraqis to investigate and develop intelligence for us, and that was very helpful to us in refining the target,” Secretary Austin added. “Let me say that I am very proud of the men and women in our force that carried out the strike. As you would expect, they performed in a very professional manner, and we are grateful for their service.”
The attack against the Iranian proxy forces comes at an important time for the U.S.-Iranian relationship. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (as the Iran nuclear deal is officially known) is up for renegotiation, and both parties are engaged in a diplomatic back and forth about how a future nuclear deal might look like. The Iranian proxy attacks against US interests in the region could very well be a part of Tehran’s diplomatic strategy. So, a strong US response is not all justified but prudent.