Several days after the deadly attack by pro-Iranian militias on American soldiers in Jordan, the US military has responded with a comprehensive counterstrike on targets in Iraq and Syria. The US military said it fired on more than 85 targets from the air, including command centers, intelligence sites and weapons depots used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and militias affiliated with them, US regional command Centcom said on Friday (local time/Washington ) with. US President Joe Biden made it clear that this was just the beginning and that further military action would follow. At the same time, he emphasized that the United States did not want a new conflict in the Middle East.
Last Sunday, three US soldiers were killed in a drone attack by pro-Iranian militias in Jordan near the Syrian border. Numerous other soldiers were injured. Biden blamed “radical, Iran-backed militant groups” for the attack and threatened retaliation. On Wednesday, the US government officially attributed the attack to a group called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which had previously claimed responsibility for the attack.
"Islamic resistance in Iraq"
The "Islamic Resistance in Iraq" is a kind of umbrella group for pro-Iranian militias in Iraq, which have been operating together under this general name since the terrorist acts of the Islamist Hamas on October 7th in Israel. This includes the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah. It is one of the strongest militias in Iraq and is calling for the withdrawal of US troops from the country. Northeast Jordan, where the deadly attack on US soldiers occurred, borders both Syria and Iraq.
Biden holds out the prospect of further military strikes
Biden said in a written statement regarding the backlash in the two countries: "Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing." The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world, he stressed. "But for all those who wish to harm us, know this: If you harm an American, we will respond."
According to the US government, in the Americans' retaliatory strike, the military targeted seven major positions - three of them in Iraq and four in Syria - where a total of more than 85 individual targets were hit. The airstrikes lasted about 30 minutes, said National Security Council communications director John Kirby. Numerous aircraft were involved in the operation - including B-1 strategic bombers that were sent from the USA. The targets were carefully selected to avoid civilian casualties.
It is not yet known whether militia members were killed in the airstrikes, said Kirby. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 18 members of pro-Iranian militias had been killed in Syria.
Kirby said there was "clear, irrefutable evidence" that the targets hit were linked to attacks on US forces in the region. The aim of the action was to reduce the ability of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and its allies in the region to carry out further attacks on US forces. The US military is confident that the attacks were successful in this sense.
Shortly before the retaliatory strikes, the bodies of the three US soldiers killed in Jordan were returned to the USA on Friday. Biden paid his last respects at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The counterattack started just a little later. The US military emphasized that the proximity of the two events was not deliberately chosen. The timing of the air strikes was based solely on military considerations, in this case favorable weather conditions.
For the US President, the action against the militias is a tightrope act. On the one hand, he wants to avoid his country being drawn into a regional war in the Middle East. On the other hand, he wants to show strength and bring an end to the attacks. Since the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas began in October, pro-Iranian militias have carried out almost daily attacks on US military bases in Iraq and Syria. The US government has already responded with air strikes in both countries - although on a smaller scale than the new concerted action.
In addition, the Yemeni Houthis - in solidarity with Hamas - repeatedly attack freighters in the Red Sea. In response, the US and Britain, with the support of allies, carried out military strikes against the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen. The US air strikes have not yet deterred the militias from further attacks. Concerns about an escalation in the region are growing.