US Begins Retaliation for Deadly Drone Attack on Its Soldiers
Dozens of Iran-militia linked targets hit in Syria and Iraq
The United States has begun carrying out airstrikes in the Middle East in retaliation for last Sunday's fatal drone attack on an American base in Jordan.
The U.S. Central Command said its forces on Friday "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 [the] United States."
"We hit exactly what we meant to hit," said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, who serves as the operations director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He explained the air assault took place over about 30 minutes and said that three of the sites struck were in Iraq and four were in Syria.
Iraq, but not Iran, was informed prior to the strikes, according to U.S. officials.
U.S. President Joe Biden said the attacks were carried out at his direction.
"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. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond," said Biden in a Friday evening statement.
Hours before the U.S. military response, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi reiterated earlier promises to potentially retaliate for any U.S. strikes targeting its interests.
Iran, he said, "will not start a war, but if a country, if a cruel force wants to bully us, the Islamic Republic of Iran will give a strong response."
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B-1 bombers were flown from the United States and were part of the operation that used more than 125 precision munitions, according to U.S. military officials.
"This is the start of our response," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement. "The president has directed additional actions to hold the IRGC and affiliated militias accountable for their attacks on U.S. and Coalition Forces. These will unfold at times and places of our choosing.
"There will be additional response actions taken in [the] coming days," said White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on a call with journalists that I joined Friday evening.
The U.S military said it struck "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."
Syrian state media in Damascus reported that "U.S. aggression" at several sites in desert areas and along the Syria-Iraq border had resulted in casualties.
Biden and Austin, among other U.S. government officials, had made clear in recent days there would be a multi-tiered military response after the first American deaths under fire in what some describe as an escalating proxy war with Iranian-supported militias in the region.
Sunday's attack on a base in Jordan killed three U.S. soldiers and injured more than 40 others. There has been no U.S. communication with Iran since that attack, said Kirby.
There have been more than 165 attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East since mid-October.
"I think anytime you lose men and women overseas in an operation, it does put additional pressure on any administration, whether they're Democrats or Republicans, to take a very firm response," Jeremi Suri, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin told VOA.
"The huge issue that the administration is dealing with is having a strong deterrence policy without having escalation throughout the region, and threading that needle is difficult. I would say the choices that they made so far have been good ones," said Suri.
The latest conflict in the Middle East was sparked nearly four months ago by Hamas terrorists and other militant groups crossing from Gaza into Israel and slaughtering 1,200 people, mostly Israeli civilians, in their homes, at a music festival and elsewhere.
Return of slain U.S. soldiers
The first indication of Friday's retaliatory bombings came minutes after a dignified transfer of the remains of the three U.S. Army reservists concluded at Dover Air Force Base in the state of Delaware.
The Friday airstrikes by U.S. warplanes "had no connection, none whatsoever, with the timing of the dignified transfer," Kirby said in response to a question from VOA.
Biden, and the first lady Jill Biden, watched for 15 minutes as a carry team of seven soldiers wearing white gloves in a formation of two lines marched slowly toward a C5 Galaxy military transport plane to individually retrieve the transfer cases that were draped with American flags.
They carried each case about 100 meters toward a vehicle, slowly passing a somber-looking president who had his right hand on his chest. The other civilians, including the first lady and Austin, also had their hands on hearts, as did attending lawmakers and grieving family members.
The president's attendance at the event came amid a ray of optimism that Hamas and Israel were moving slowly toward a deal to free hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip in exchange for a freeing by Israel of Palestinian prisoners and a truce.
Israel has relentlessly bombarded Gaza in response to the October 7 terror attacks. The response has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians and wounded 66,000, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Officials with the United Nations say the war has created a humanitarian catastrophe with about a quarter of Gaza's 2.3 million people starving.
The Israel Defense Forces said Friday it attacked a Hezbollah military complex and trucks that were storing weapons in southern Lebanon.
Fighter jets attacked the complex near the village of Lida, and the truck hit was near the village of Shuba, according to the IDF. This operation followed rocket launches into northern Israel from Hezbollah earlier in the day.
The Houthi movement said it fired ballistic missiles Friday at the Red Sea port city of Eilat in Israel. The IDF said its Arrow aerial defense system had intercepted a surface-to-surface missile over the Red Sea.