Thursday, May 23, 2024

The United States conducted a new round of airstrikes early on Tuesday in Iraq, most likely killing militants and destroying three facilities used by Iranian proxies that had been targeting American and coalition troops, U.S. officials said.

The American strikes were in retaliation for a series of assaults, including a drone attack hours earlier by members of Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups on Erbil air base in Iraq, according to Adrienne Watson, a National Security Council spokeswoman. The drone attack injured three American service members, one of them critically, she said.

“My prayers are with the brave Americans who were injured,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement.

The latest strikes targeted facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah, a militia group in Iraq that is considered a proxy of Iran. The United States blames Iran and the militias aligned with it for what has become a near-daily barrage of rocket and drone attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. The Biden administration has sought to calibrate retaliatory airstrikes to ultimately deter such groups while avoiding a wider war.

After Mr. Biden was informed of the Erbil attack on Christmas morning, he ordered the Defense Department to prepare response options, White House officials said. Later in the day, the president authorized strikes that were conducted around 8:45 p.m. Eastern time.

Mr. Biden chose Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated facilities that had been used to launch unmanned aerial drone attacks, officials said.

Last month, the United States struck an operations center and a command-and-control node south of Baghdad used by Kataib Hezbollah. The group’s political wing is part of the coalition of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani of Iraq.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched a slew of attacks on American troops and bases and on commercial ships transiting the Red Sea. The Biden administration has retaliated against the militants in Iraq and Syria, but has so far avoided hitting the Houthi militants in Yemen who have targeted traffic in the Red Sea.

In a statement, U.S. Central Command said that early assessments indicated that the latest U.S. airstrikes in Iraq destroyed the targeted facilities and most likely killed a number of militants. The statement said that there were no indications of civilian casualties.

“These strikes are intended to hold accountable those elements directly responsible for attacks on coalition forces in Iraq and Syria and degrade their ability to continue attacks,” Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla of U.S. Central Command said in the statement. “We will always protect our forces.”

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