U.S. President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes late Thursday on sites in Syria the Pentagon said were being used by Iranian-backed militias, in retaliation for rocket attacks earlier this month on U.S. targets in Iraq.

Pentagon spokesperson Jon Kirby said the airstrikes near the Syrian-Iraqi border were “proportionate” and defensive.

He confirmed that the strikes “were authorized in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel.”

The operation “destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups,” including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, said Kirby.

Iranian-backed militias in Iraq launched a rocket attack on Feb. 15 in Erbil in northern Iraq that killed one civilian contractor and wounded U.S. service members and other coalition personnel. A week later, a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone also appeared to target the U.S. embassy there, though no one was hurt.

Kataib Hezbollah, a U.S. designated terrorist organization, is one of the largest Iran-backed militias in Iraq and has close links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, but has denied that it was involved in the attacks in Erbil and Baghdad. Iran has waged a deadly campaign through several war-torn countries in the Middle East such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen using terror groups and militias as proxies.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters on Friday that he was “confident in the target that we went after, we know what we hit,” adding that “we’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the strikes.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 22 people were killed in the airstrike and most were members of the Iranian-backed Iraqi militias.

The attack was the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration. The decision appears to signal to Iran that despite overtures towards diplomacy with the Iranian nuclear deal, the United States will not tolerate attacks on its personnel in Iraq.

According to Walla News, Israeli officials were reportedly pleased with the U.S. strike and Biden’s posture towards Iran, adding that U.S. officials notified them ahead of the strike.

“The Iranians didn’t realize that Biden is not [former President Barack] Obama and that if they will continue down this road of miscalculation, they will eventually get hit,” said the Israeli official.


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