More than 85 targets hit
US confirms airstrikes in Syria, Iraq after early confusion
The U.S. military has launched air strikes against targets in Syria and Iraq in the first retaliation for a drone attack that killed three soldiers at a remote U.S. base in Jordan.
U.S. Central Command confirmed the strikes, tweeting: “At 4:00 p.m. (EST) Feb. 02, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) forces conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militia groups.
“U.S. military forces struck more than 85 targets, with numerous aircraft to include long-range bombers flown from United States. The airstrikes employed more than 125 precision munitions.
“The facilities that were struck included command and control operations, centers, intelligence centers, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aired vehicle storages, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces.”
Yehia Rasool, spokesperson for military affairs to the Iraqi prime minister, was swift to respond with warnings of ‘dire’ outcomes: “The cities of Al-Qaim and the Iraqi border areas are being subjected to airstrikes by United States aircraft.
“These strikes come at a time when Iraq is earnestly working to ensure regional stability. They represent a breach of Iraqi sovereignty, undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government, and pose a threat that could lead Iraq and the region towards grave consequences. The repercussions are likely to be dire for the security and stability in both Iraq and the region.”
A former mayor of Al-Qaim told a WhatsApp group that a Kata’ib Hezbollah weapons depot was hit in Al-Sikka, destroying it and damaging houses in the vicinity. 964media has not been able to independently verify this claim as of publication.
One of the earliest reports in the night – from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor – said that six members of a pro-Iran militia group had been killed in eastern Syria during strikes believed to be carried out by the United States.
The Pentagon did not immediately comment on the early reports. Fox News cited an unidentified Defense Department official saying the strikes were launched from multiple platforms.
Warplanes carried out four rounds of raids on sites housing Iran-backed groups in the eastern Deir Ezzor province, the Observatory said, three of them targeting Al-Mayadeen and one striking Albu Kamal, near the Iraqi border.
Confusion reigned when these early reports of a start to the American response – which has been telegraphed for nearly a week since the incident in Jordan – were denied by Department of Defense officials to multiple Western journalists covering the region.
In the hour or so that followed, multiple local news outlets reported – then retracted – the start of American airstrikes. The U.S.’s ABC News then issued a correction, also citing Pentagon officials, withdrawing its earlier claims that the U.S. had started its bombing campaign.
Later on in the Middle Eastern night, reports began to emerge from multiple reputable sources that the U.S. had began its response. Though some still denied the night’s initial strikes were American.
Then came unconfirmed reports that, in addition to Syria, Iraq was also witnessing strikes. The CENTCOM tweet followed within the hour.
The start of U.S. bombing in the region follows President Joe Biden’s vow to retaliate against pro-Iranian militias over the drone attack last Sunday against a US base in Jordan, near Syria.
In a statement, President Biden said: “This afternoon, at my direction, U.S. military forces struck targets at facilities in Iraq and Syria that the IRGC and affiliated militia use to attack U.S. forces.
“Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing.”
He ended it by saying, “The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”
Just minutes before the first U.S. media reports, Biden had attended a solemn military ritual at a Delaware air base for the return of the three dead soldiers.
Six servicemen wearing camouflage, dark berets and white gloves marched slowly three times on and off the ramp of a huge C-5 transport plane to carry the bodies in flag-draped “transfer cases” – as the military calls caskets used in transportation – to a waiting van.
Biden, accompanied by First Lady Jill Biden, watched with his hand over his heart and a grim expression. Family members watched from their own area, screened off from the press.
Although the United States is now free from its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, surging tensions in the Middle East, sparked by the Israel-Hamas fighting, threaten to drag U.S. forces back into regional conflict.
These were the first U.S. military deaths to hostile fire since the October 7 Hamas surprise attack on Israel that sparked a deadly Israeli assault on Gaza.
However, the U.S. military and Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria have periodically exchanged fire, while Yemen’s Huthi rebels are near daily clashing with the U.S. Navy ships or firing on international civilian shipping in the Red Sea.
Two SEALS – among the most elite special forces in the US military – died while trying to board and search a ship in January.
(Reporting by 964media and AFP)