The US military struck back late Friday at Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for a drone attack last weekend that killed three US Army soldiers in Jordan, the Pentagon announced.
The strikes, first reported by ABC News, began a little more than an hour after the conclusion of a dignified transfer ceremony honoring the three soldiers at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
It was not immediately clear where the explosions took place, who was behind them or what was being targeted.
The US strikes were preceded by a series of explosions in Syria that are not believed to have been caused by the American military. However, the Pentagon declined to comment on that matter.
Senior Biden administration officials have previously said “it will pretty be clear” when the US retaliation campaign begins, with the Pentagon and National Security Council saying Thursday it will be a multifaceted campaign.
“The first thing you see won’t be the last,” NSC spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.
The US has pledged to hold the Islamic Resistance in Iraq umbrella group accountable for its weekend attack that killed Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, and wounded approximately 40 other American service members.
With nearly a week elapsing since the attack, critics of the Biden administration have warned that the delay has given Iranian military officials and members of Tehran-backed militia groups ample time to go into hiding.
President Biden had authorized a “tiered” response starting as soon as this weekend, with strikes over several days on Iranian personnel and facilities in Syria and Iraq, US officials told the Wall Street Journal, as well as non-military steps to prevent an escalation of the conflict.
Tensions have spiked between the US and Iranian proxy forces in the Middle East ever since Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion of Israel, which The Journal had previously reported was planned and signed off on by Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Since October, Iran’s militias have launched attacks against US forces in Iraq, Syria and Jordan more than 150 times, Pentagon officials say, with Houthi rebels in Yemen also firing rockets against both commercial and military ships in the Red Sea.
Biden vowed the US “shall respond” but was cautious over the course of the week about telegraphing any particular military action by his administration.
“I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That’s not what I’m looking for,” he told reporters on Tuesday outside the White House, adding that he held Iran “responsible in the sense that they’re supplying the weapons to the people who did it.”
Republican defense hawks blasted the president for his hesitation following the deaths of three American service members and injuries to dozens of others.
“Biden and his mouthpieces say we must be ‘proportionate’ and ‘measured’ when responding to Iran killing U.S. troops. But that’s conveying weakness. It’s telling Iran that it is acceptable to kill Americans,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) posted Tuesday on X. “Our response should be overwhelming force to deter these attacks.”
The last direct attack on an Iranian military official occurred on Jan. 3, 2020, when former President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike in Iraq that killed Qassem Soleimani, the major general of Iran’s IRGC paramilitary Quds Force.
Tehran subsequently launched missile attacks on US troops in Iraq, wounding dozens but leading to no deaths of service members.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced “proportionate strikes” were carried out “on three facilities used by the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group and other Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq.”
Those “precision strikes” were in response to an attack just days before on an Iraqi air base that wounded US forces and were part of “escalatory attacks against U.S. and Coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias,” Austin said in a statement.