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US airstrikes target Iran-backed militia in Iraq, Syria over drone attacks

Biden authorizes strikes on 3 targets used to launch drone attacks on US soldiers, bases in the Middle East; monitor says at least 5 Iraqi fighters killed; Syria says child killed

Illustrative: An F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew prepare for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, August 5, 2019.  (Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/US Air Force via AP)
Illustrative: An F-35 fighter jet pilot and crew prepare for a mission at Al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates, August 5, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury/US Air Force via AP)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon announced Sunday it had conducted targeted airstrikes against “facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups” on the Iraq-Syria border, which it said were authorized by US President Joe Biden following ongoing attacks on US interests.

“At President Biden’s direction, US military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

Kirby added that the targets — two in Syria, one in Iraq — were selected because “these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

US interests in Iraq have come under repeated attack in recent months, with the United States consistently blaming Iran-linked Iraqi factions for rocket and other attacks against Iraqi installations housing its personnel.

“Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting US interests in Iraq, the president directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks,” Kirby said.

“Specifically, the US strikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries,” he added.

US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk on the South Lawn of the White House after stepping off Marine One, Sunday, June 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

While the United States did not provide information on casualties, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights — a pro-Syrian opposition organization of uncertain funding based in the UK which has had its credibility questioned in the past — said that “at least five Iran-backed Iraqi militia fighters were killed and several others were wounded in an attack by US warplanes” on the Syrian side of the frontier.

The war monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria to collect information, said that military positions were among the targets hit.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said one child had been killed and that at least three other people were wounded.

Since the start of the year there have been more than 40 attacks against US interests in Iraq, where 2,500 American troops are deployed as part of an international coalition to fight the jihadist Islamic State group.

The vast majority have been strikes against logistics convoys, while 14 were rocket attacks, some of them claimed by pro-Iran factions that aim to pressure Washington into withdrawing all their troops.

The strikes come one day after Iraqi Kurdish officials said three explosives-laden drones hit near the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, where the United States has a consulate.

A smoke plume billows following a reported Syrian government air strike on a residential district of Maaret al-Numan in the northwestern Idlib province on December 18, 2019. (Omar HAJ KADOUR / AFP)

It also occurred as the Hashed al-Shaabi, a pro-Iran paramilitary alliance opposed to the US presence in Iraq, held a military parade near Baghdad attended by senior officials.

In April, a drone packed with explosives hit the coalition’s Iraq headquarters in the military part of the airport in Arbil, the Iraqi Kurdish regional capital.

The tactic poses a headache for the coalition, as drones can evade air defenses.

“As demonstrated by this evening’s strikes, President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect US personnel,” Kirby said.

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