President Joe Biden has ordered retaliatory airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias after three American soldiers were wounded in a drone attack in northern Iraq.
National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said that one American soldier was seriously injured in the attack that occurred earlier on Monday. The Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia and its affiliated groups, under the umbrella of Iranian-backed militants, claimed responsibility for the attack, which used a unidirectional attack drone.
Biden, who is spending Christmas at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, was alerted about the attack by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan shortly after it occurred on Monday and ordered the Pentagon and his top national security aides to prepare response options for the attack on an air base used by troops. American in Erbil.
Sullivan consulted with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Biden's deputy national security adviser, John Feiner, was with the president at Camp David and met with senior aides to review options, according to a US official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity.
Within hours, Biden called his national security team for a call in which Austin and Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed Biden on response options. The official said that Biden chose to target three sites used by Kataib Hezbollah and its affiliated groups.
The US strikes were carried out at approximately 4:45 a.m. Tuesday in Iraq, less than 13 hours after the attack on US personnel. According to US Central Command, the retaliatory strikes on the three sites “destroyed the targeted facilities and likely killed a number of Kataib Hezbollah fighters.”
“The President places no higher priority than protecting American personnel who serve in harm's way,” Watson said. He added, “The United States will act at the time and in the manner we choose if these attacks continue.”
The latest attack on US forces comes after months of escalating threats and actions against US forces in the region since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, which sparked the devastating war in Gaza.
Last month, US fighter jets bombed the Kataib Hezbollah operations center and command and control node, following a short-range ballistic missile attack on US forces at Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq. Iranian-backed militias also carried out a drone attack on the same air base in October, causing minor casualties.
The United States also blamed Iran, which funded and trained Hamas, for attacks by Yemen's Houthi militants against commercial and military ships across a critical shipping chokepoint in the Red Sea.
The Biden administration has sought to prevent the war between Israel and Hamas from escalating into a broader regional conflict that would either open new fronts for Israeli fighting or directly attract the United States. The administration's measured response – where not every attempt against US forces was met with a counterattack – has drawn criticism from Republicans.
The United States has thousands of soldiers in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and combat the remnants of ISIS, and hundreds in Syria, most of them on the mission of combating ISIS. They have been subjected to dozens of attacks, though not yet fatal, since the war began on October 7, with the United States attributing responsibility to Iranian-backed groups.
“Although we do not seek to escalate the conflict in the region, we are fully committed and prepared to take further actions necessary to protect our people and facilities,” Austin said in a statement.
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