The United States on Thursday launched airstrikes in eastern Syria, targeting sites connected to Shia militias groups backed by the Iranian regime believed to be involved in recent attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.
The retaliatory strikes marked President Joe Biden’s first overt use of military force.
“These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
Biden administration officials condemned that attack, but as recently as this week officials indicated they had not determined for certain who carried it out. Officials have noted that in the past, Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups have been responsible for numerous rocket attacks that targeted U.S. personnel or facilities in Iraq.
Kirby said Tuesday that Iraq is in charge of investigating the Feb. 15 attack.
“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,” Kirby added.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the U.S. strikes caused any casualties. No further details were immediately available.
“I’m confident in the target that we went after, we know what we hit,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters late Thursday.
“We’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the strikes," he added, referring to the Feb. 15 attack.
Austin noted that he recommended Biden authorize the airstrike.
“We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin said. "We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”
The Biden administration had been “deliberate” in its approach, Austin said.
“We allowed and encouraged the Iraqis to investigate and develop intelligence, and it was very helpful to us in refining the target,” he added.