Baghdad – A US airstrike in Syria against facilities belonging to a powerful Iranian-backed armed group killed one of its fighters and wounded several more, an Iraqi militia official said on Friday.
The Pentagon said the bombings were in retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq in mid-month that killed a civilian contractor and wounded a US military and other coalition soldiers.
The actions against Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, reached a border area between Boukamal, Syria, and Qaim, on the Iraqi side, the militant, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to report on the attack, told The Associated Press. attack. Groups monitoring the Syrian civil war said the attacks affected trucks transporting weapons to a base for Iranian-backed groups in Boukamal.
“I’m sure of the target we hit, we know what we hit,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters flying with him from California to Washington shortly after Thursday night’s attack.
The operation was the first military action by the government of President Joe Biden, which in its first weeks has emphasized its intention to focus more on the challenges posed by China, despite the persistence of threats in the Middle East. Biden’s decision to launch an attack in Syria does not seem to indicate that Washington will expand its involvement in the region but to show that it will defend its troops in Iraq.
The United States has already attacked Kataeb Hezbollah facilities in Syria in the past. The group has been accused of numerous attacks on US personnel and interests in Iraq. The Iraqi movement is independent from the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based group that monitors the conflict in Syria, the attacks hit a shipment of weapons that was being transported in trucks that entered Syrian territory from Iraq. Twenty-two fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces, a group comprising mostly Shiite paramilitary forces including Kataeb Hezbollah, were killed, it added. The report could not be independently verified.
The US Defense Secretary said he was “sure” the operation hit “the same Shia fighters who carried out the attacks,” referring to the February 15 rocket offensive in northern Iraq in which a man was killed. civilian contractor and a US soldier and other members of the coalition were injured.
Austin said he had recommended the move to Biden.
“We said several times that we would respond according to our times,” he said. “We wanted to be sure of the connection and we wanted to be sure we had the correct targets.”
Hours earlier, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the US actions were a “proportionate military response” that was carried out in conjunction with diplomatic measures, including consultations with coalition allies.
“The operation sends an unequivocal message: President Biden will act to protect US and coalition personnel,” Kirby said.
The US attacks “destroyed several facilities at a border checkpoint used by various groups of Iranian-backed fighters,” including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, the spokesman added.
No further details were available at the moment.
Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, called Washington’s action a violation of international law.
“The United Nations Charter makes it absolutely clear that the use of military force on the territory of a foreign sovereign state is legal only in response to an armed attack against the defending state for which the target is responsible,” he stated. “None of these elements are met in the attack in Syria.”
Biden government officials condemned the Feb. 15 rocket attack near the town of Irbil in the Kurdish-controlled semi-autonomous region, but this week said they were not yet clear who the perpetrator was. Officials had said that, in the past, Tehran-backed Shiite militias were responsible for numerous missile attacks on US personnel or facilities in Iraq.
A little-known Shiite insurgent group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam, the Brigade of the Blood Guardians in Arabic, claimed responsibility for the February 15 attack. A week later, a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone appeared to target the US embassy compound, but there were no injuries.
This week, Iran claimed it has no ties to the Blood Guard Brigade.