U.S. airstrikes hit Iran-backed militias in Iraq after drone attack injures 3 American troops

Three U.S. troops were injured in Iraq on Monday after a drone attack on an American air base by Iran-backed militias, Pentagon officials said, leading to a round of retaliatory airstrikes by U.S. forces.

In a statement late Monday night, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that President Biden ordered the strikes against Kataib Hezbollah, a militia with ties to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

“These precision strikes are a response to a series of attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias, including an attack by Iran-affiliated Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups on Erbil Air Base earlier today,” Mr. Austin said.

The Pentagon chief said the strikes are “intended to disrupt and degrade capabilities of the Iran-aligned militia groups directly responsible” for the attack.

Three Americans were injured. One service member is in critical condition, officials said.

“Let me be clear — the president and I will not hesitate to take necessary action to defend the United States, our troops, and our interests. There is no higher priority,” Mr. Austin said.

He aid that the U.S. does “not seek to escalate conflict in the region” but is “fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities.”

Mr. Biden was briefed shortly after the initial Christmas morning attack in Iraq, White House officials said, and he was presented with options to strike back against Kataib Hezbollah.

The president “directed strikes against three locations utilized by Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups focused specifically on unmanned aerial drone activities,” White National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

“The United States will act at a time and in a manner of our choosing should these attacks continue,” she said.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees America’s military presence in the region, said early indications show that the U.S. strikes “destroyed the targeted facilities and likely killed a number of Kataib Hezbollah militants.”

Monday’s airstrikes are the latest in a string of clashes between U.S. troops in the Middle East and Iranian proxies, though not Iran itself.

Mr. Biden has come under intense pressure to more forcefully respond to the repeated, direct attacks on American personnel.

The Iran-backed militias now routinely target American forces stationed in Iraq and Syria. The attacks have grown more frequent in the months since the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

Hamas, like the militias targeting U.S. forces in the region, is supported by Iran.

Separately, U.S. forces over the weekend shot down at least four attack drones launched by Houthi rebels operating in Yemen. The Houthis are also backed by Iran. The drones were headed toward an American warship operating in the Red Sea.

Before Monday’s attack in Iraq, attacks by Iran-backed militias had wounded at least 21 U.S. service members and led to one American contractor dying from a cardiac incident while sheltering in place.

‘Tensions between the two nations are now near their highest point since early 2020, when a U.S. airstrike killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Source: WT