The US military launched an attack on facilities in eastern Syria used by Iranian-backed militias on Thursday in retaliation for recent rocket attacks on US troop locations in Iraq, the Pentagon said, AFP reported.
“Under the leadership of President (Joe) Biden, US military forces carried out airstrikes earlier tonight against infrastructure used by Iranian-backed militia groups in eastern Syria,” spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
“These attacks were authorized in response to recent attacks on US and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and the continuing threats to those personnel,” he said.
The US military did not report whether there were casualties in the offensive.
Kirby said the target was a border checkpoint used by Iranian-backed Iraqi armed groups, including Kataeb Hezbollah and Kataeb Sayyid al-Shuhada.
The attack came after three rocket attacks on facilities in Iraq that are used by US and coalition forces fighting the Islamic State group.
One such attack, on a military compound in Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, on February 15, killed a civilian and a foreign contractor working with coalition forces, injuring several US contractors and a soldier.
The attacks in Iraq carried out by groups suspected of operating under Iran’s leadership posed a challenge to the new Biden administration as it opens the door to resuming negotiations with Tehran on its nuclear program.
The US administration says it wants to revive the 2015 deal, which former President Donald Trump left in 2018, and that it aims to freeze Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
But Washington also views Tehran as an ongoing security threat in the Middle East.
Kirby called Thursday’s attacks “proportionate” and said they “were carried out in conjunction with diplomatic measures,” including consultation with US partners in the anti-IS coalition.
But he also said it was designed to reduce tension in eastern Syria and Iraq.
“The operation sends an unequivocal message: President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel,” he said.
Violation of international law
Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, criticized the US attack as a violation of international law, the AP reported.
“The Charter of the United Nations makes it absolutely clear that the use of military force on the territory of a foreign sovereign state is lawful only in response to an armed attack against the defending state for which the target state is responsible,” he said. “None of those elements are in the attack in Syria.”
Officials in the Biden administration condemned the Feb. 15 rocket attack near the city of Irbil in Iraq’s Kurdish-led semi-autonomous region, but as recently as this week officials indicated they had not determined with certainty by whom. carried out. Officials have pointed out that in the past, Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups have been responsible for numerous rocket attacks on US personnel or facilities in Iraq.
Kirby had said Tuesday that Iraq is in charge of investigating the February 15 attack.