Washington, D.C. – US military chiefs threatened a retaliatory attack on an Iranian-backed Shiite militia in Iraq on Thursday after claiming they know who launched the rockets that killed and wounded US and coalition soldiers.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters that President Donald Trump authorized him on Wednesday night to take the necessary measures in Iraq. The move indicates a further escalation of tensions with Iran and its allied groups in Iraq.
“We are going to do it step by step, but we are going to punish the perpetrators,” Esper said. “They cannot fire on our bases and kill and injure Americans and get away with it.”RELATED
At the White House, Trump said the attackers were a rebel group that “most likely is backed by Iran. We will see what the answer will be.”
Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to offer more information about an impending US response to the attack on Taji Field Base, north of Baghdad. But Esper said all options were considered.
Asked whether an attack would include action inside Iran, Esper said: “We are focused on the group that we think carried out the attack in Iraq.”
Two American and one British soldier were killed and 14 other troops wounded when 18 rockets landed at the base on Wednesday.
US authorities have not publicly said which group they think launched the attack, but one possibility is Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite militia.
Kataib Hezbollah launched the attack in December against a military base in Kirkuk that killed a US contractor, prompting US air strikes.
That in turn led to protests at the US embassy in Baghdad, followed by a US airstrike on January 3 that killed Iran’s most powerful military commander, General Qassem Soleimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a militia leader. pro-Iranians in Iraq of which Kataib Hezbollah is a member. In response, Iran launched a massive rocket attack on January 8 against al-Asad’s base in Iraq that resulted in brain injuries to more than 100 US soldiers.