President Joe Biden ordered his first military airstrikes on Thursday, targeting “multiple facilities” used by by Iranian-backed militia groups in eastern Syria, according to the Pentagon.
The strikes were in response to recent attacks against American and U.S.-led Coalition personnel in Iraq and to “ongoing threats” to those personnel, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement Thursday evening.
“At President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted airstrikes against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria,” Kirby said, adding:
These strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel. Specifically, the strikes destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kait’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).
Kirby said the “proportionate military response” was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with Coalition partners.
“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” Kirby said.
He characterized the airstrikes a “defensive precision strike.”
It is not yet clear if there were any casualties associated with the airstrikes. According to the Washington Post, the strike “was believed to have killed up to a handful of people.”
Earlier this month, a rocket attack in northern Iraq — believed to have been carried out by Iran-backed militia groups in Iraq — killed a contractor working with the U.S. military and injured a U.S. service member. There were additional rocket attacks against another Iraqi base that housed American contractors and near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
The strike comes just a little over a month into Biden’s presidency.
Biden was under mounting outside pressure to act, particularly since former President Donald Trump had taken quick action after Iran-backed militia groups conducted similar attacks in Iraq in December 2019 that killed an Iraqi-American contractor.
After the groups retaliated with more attacks and pro-Iran protesters threatened the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Trump ordered a strike that killed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called the strikes “targeted, proportional and necessary.”
Iranian backed militias have launched three attacks against Americans in the last two weeks.
The strikes ordered by @potus against these militias tonight were targeted, proportional and necessary.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) February 26, 2021
An old tweet by now-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, began recirculating Thursday evening after the strikes, appearing to question the Trump administration’s authority to conduct airstrikes against the Syrian regime after a chemical weapons attack against his own people.
“What is the legal authority for strikes? Assad is a brutal dictator. But Syria is a sovereign country.”
Also what is the legal authority for strikes? Assad is a brutal dictator. But Syria is a sovereign country.
— Jen Psaki (@jrpsaki) April 7, 2017