The U.S. military conducted strikes on three facilities in Iraq on Tuesday, targeting an Iranian-backed militia responsible for recent missile and drone attacks on American troops in Iraq and Syria, according to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The strikes specifically targeted militia facilities in Jurf al-Sakhar, located south of Baghdad, as well as al-Qaim and an unnamed site in western Iraq. These actions were carried out at the direction of President Biden, with Austin stating that the precision strikes were a direct response to a series of escalatory attacks by Iranian-sponsored militias against U.S. and Coalition personnel in the region.
Earlier on Tuesday, militants fired two one-way attack drones at al-Asad Air Base, resulting in injuries to U.S. service members and damage to infrastructure. These drone attacks followed the militia’s most significant assault of the year on the air base, which involved the launch of multiple ballistic missiles on Saturday.
The U.S. attack aimed at headquarters, storage, and training locations used by the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group and other Iran-affiliated groups involved in rocket, missile, and one-way attack drone capabilities.
During the recent drone attacks on al-Asad Air Base, U.S. defenses successfully intercepted the first drone, but it crashed onto the base. The second drone, however, managed to hit its target. Luckily, injuries were reported to be minor, including cases of traumatic brain injuries and smoke inhalation.
In the larger-scale attack on Saturday, numerous ballistic missiles and rockets were launched by Iranian-backed militants at al-Asad Air Base. However, most of these projectiles were intercepted by air defense systems. Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh described the attack as a “barrage” and noted that it was the first time since November 20 that Iranian proxy forces had fired ballistic missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq.
Al-Asad Air Base, located in western Iraq, is a significant military installation where U.S. troops have been involved in training Iraqi security forces and coordinating operations against the Islamic State group.
The U.S. military’s retaliation against the Iranian-backed militia demonstrates its commitment to protecting its personnel and countering threats posed by these groups in the region.
Ballistic Missiles Used in Recent Attacks on U.S. Forces in Iraq
A coalition of militias known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on U.S. forces. Within this coalition, Kataib Hezbollah is one of the groups involved.
However, the recent use of ballistic missiles in these attacks indicates an escalation, according to Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who specializes in Iran. The militias have typically relied on drones and rockets for their attacks. Taleblu explained that Tehran supplied short-range and close-range ballistic missiles to Shia militias in Iraq in 2019, but they had not been employed until the attacks in November.
The range of close-range missiles can reach up to 300 kilometers (186 miles), while short-range missiles can go up to 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).
“The militias showcased this capability on social media in early November, launched them mid-month, and then fired a larger volley at al-Asad” last week, Taleblu stated.
During Saturday’s ballistic missile attack on al-Asad, four U.S. service members were injured, all of whom have since returned to duty. Additionally, one member of the Iraqi security forces was also injured.
Since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict in early October, there have been more than 151 attacks on U.S. facilities in Syria and Iraq. The Pentagon reported two attacks on Monday, involving multiple rockets fired at U.S. and coalition troops at Mission Support Site Euphrates in Syria, as well as a single rocket fired at the Rumalyn Landing Zone in Syria. Thankfully, no casualties or damage were reported from either incident.
In response to a drone attack that injured three U.S. service members in northern Iraq, the U.S. conducted retaliatory strikes against the militia groups last month. Kataib Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the attack, which was carried out using a one-way attack drone.
In its response, the U.S. targeted three sites, destroying facilities and likely resulting in casualties among Kataib Hezbollah militants, according to the White House statement at the time.