Biden Orders Airstrikes on Iranian-Backed Militias in Syria After Rocket Attacks

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In this Nov. 7, 2014, file photo, Department of Defense Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby, speaks during a news conference, at the Pentagon in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
In this Nov. 7, 2014, file photo, Department of Defense Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby, speaks during a news conference, at the Pentagon in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

The U.S. military Thursday evening carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria, targeting facilities it said were being used by Iranian-backed militia groups.

In a statement, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that President Biden ordered the strikes, which destroyed several facilities at a border control point used by groups including Kait'ib Hezbollah and Kait'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.

The statement described the airstrikes as "defensive."

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"These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel," Kirby said in the statement. "This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners."

Kirby added that the strike mission "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 Air Force and Pentagon could not immediately provide more information on which aircraft carried out the airstrikes, and what facilities were targeted.

The strike follows rocket attacks in Iraq that have heightened tensions in the area.

A Feb. 15 rocket attack in Erbil in northern Iraq, near where U.S. forces are based, killed one civilian coalition contractor and wounded at least eight others, including an American service member.

And on Monday, three rockets were fired at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone. That attack only caused minor property damage, however, and injured no one.

In briefings with reporters earlier this week, Kirby was hesitant to attribute responsibility for the attacks, and said the Iraqis were taking the lead on the investigation into them. But he noted that previous rocket attacks by Shia-backed militias on coalition and Iraqi facilities were conducted using weaponry from Iran.

"We take these attacks very seriously," Kirby said Monday. "If and when it's appropriate to respond, we'll do so at a time and a place and in a manner of our choosing, and certainly in consultation with our Iraqi partners."

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

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