Feb 3 (The Washington Post) – The operation marked the opening of what officials say will be a multiday campaign aimed at various targets close to Iran, which the Biden administration has blamed for the spiraling bloodshed that has erupted since the start of Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip, including a drone attack Sunday that killed three U.S. service members and injured dozens more at a remote outpost in Jordan.Who were the three American soldiers killed in Jordan drone attack
“Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing,” President Biden, who oversaw the repatriation of the slain soldiers’ remains earlier on Friday, said in a statement. “Let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”
The moment marks an intensification in Washington’s long-running standoff with Tehran, which Biden administration has labeled responsible for scores of recent attacks in Iraq and Syria — where U.S. troops remain as part of a mission to prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State — and in Yemen, where Houthi militants have fired on ships off the Arabian peninsula.
The strikes, which began at 4 p.m. Washington time on Friday, are an attempt to inflict greater damage on Iran and its proxies than they suffered in previous retaliatory actions carried out by U.S. forces in recent months, which thus far have failed to end the violence.
U.S. mixed up enemy, friendly drones in attack that killed 3 troops
The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group that includes several militias affiliated with Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack on Tower 22, the American base close to Jordan’s shared border with Iraq and Syria. The slain troops, two women and a man, were part of an Army Reserve unit based in Georgia.
On Friday, Syria’s state-run media reported that “U.S. aggression” resulted in fatalities and injures in multiple sites in desert areas. State TV said that a strike on a power station resulted in a partial power disruption in Syria’s Deir al-Zour governate.
A provincial official from western Iraq said that multiple houses used by militiamen as weapons depots in al-Qaim, a city along the border with Syria, were “entirely destroyed” by airstrikes on Friday. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive situation, reported at least two civilian deaths in al-Qaim.
While U.S. officials stressed that they hoped to avoid a wider conflict in planning their response, the action had the effect of stoking already-heightened tensions with at least one important American partner.
Yahya Rasool, an Iraqi military spokesman, described the U.S. strikes on al-Qaim and other border areas as a violation of his country’s sovereignty, which he said would “undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government, and pose a threat that could lead Iraq and the region to dire consequences.
“These strikes come at a time when Iraq is striving to ensure the stability of the region,” he said in a statement. “The results will be severe for security and stability in Iraq and the region.”
Central Command, in a statement posted on social media, said the attack involved more than 125 precision munitions fired at assets belonging to “militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces.” It was not immediately clear which of the multiple militias that Iran has ties with in Iraq and Syria were affected by the strikes.
They come just hours after Biden attended a ceremony marking the return of the three service members’ remains on Friday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Officials said the timing of the strikes was unrelated.
Iran’s elite Quds Force, which has armed and advised militant groups across the region, was blamed for scores of deaths among U.S. troops during the Iraq War. In early 2020, the U.S. military conducted a strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, the then-leader of the Quds Force, and an Iraqi militia leader in Baghdad.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that Friday’s action was “the start of our response.”
“The president directed additional actions to hold the IRGC and affiliated militias accountable for their attacks on U.S. and Coalition Forces,” he said in a separate statement.
Lt. Gen. Douglas A. Sims II, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, suggested that militant casualties were likely. He said that secondary explosions observed by local residents were munitions ignited by the initial strikes. “We hit exactly what we meant to hit,” he said.
John Kirby, a White House spokesman, told reporters Friday evening that targets had been carefully chosen to avoid civilian casualties. The U.S. military incurred a large number of civilian casualties during a protracted air war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria starting in 2014.
The confrontation with Iran’s proxies comes as Biden seeks to balance calls from Republicans for a more forceful response to violence on American forces with his goal of preventing conflagration across the Middle East, at a time when the conflict between close U.S. ally Israel and Hamas has plunged the region into turmoil.
The operation, which officials said aimed to erode Iranian and militia ability to launch future attacks on American personnel, capped mounting anticipation this week following Biden’s promise to “hold all those responsible to account.”
“They have a lot of capability,” Austin said Thursday of Iran and its allies. “I have a lot more.”
It remained unclear after the strikes whether Biden will attain his goal of heading off future attacks without plunging the Middle East into even greater chaos, which could threaten Israel and undermine U.S. interests across the region. The administration has been clear about not wanting to open a direct conflict with Iran, a significant military power that has shown itself willing, though its proxies, to target a wide array of American sites over the decades.
Asked why the United States chose not to strike within Iran given its statements about Tehran’s responsibility, Kirby said: “The goal is to get these attacks to stop. We’re not looking for a war with Iran.”
Meanwhile in Baghdad, the government has called for a reduction or end to the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Some 2,500 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, and another 900 in neighboring Syria.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, cast the strikes as “a strong, proportional response.”
“In fact, the 85 targets struck tonight mark a greater number than the prior administration,” Reed said, referring to the Trump administration. “Iran’s proxy forces in Syria and Iraq have been dealt a significant blow, and Iranian-linked militias around the Middle East should understand that they, too, will be held accountable.”
Republican lawmakers continued their criticism of the Biden administration over its response, and said while they welcome the retaliatory strikes, they either came too late or did not go far enough.
“To stop attacks on Americans, Iran must know its support for terrorist proxies comes with a heavy price,” said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) “These strikes, announced well in advance, likely did not accomplish nearly enough to stop Iran’s axis. Whatever next steps President Biden takes must be significantly stronger.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said the White House was “foolishly telegraphing U.S. intentions to our adversaries” for nearly a week.
Democrats shot back at their colleagues, saying their rhetoric and calls to strike inside Iran risks an unacceptable escalation.
“I think the president threaded the needle in terms of showing the commitment of the United States to retaliating against those who might dare to injure American troops abroad,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) told CNN.
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