In the past 24 hours, the U.S. military has hit more than 100 targets across Iraq, Syria and Yemen, striking Iranian-backed proxies that have ramped up their own attacks on U.S. troops in the region since October.
Washington began late Friday with major airstrikes on more than 85 targets across seven locations in Iraq and Syria, a response to a drone strike in Jordan that killed three American soldiers on Sunday.
Then on Saturday, the U.S. military struck 36 targets at 13 locations in areas of Yemen controlled by Houthi rebels, a separate move in connection to the militant group’s ongoing attacks on commercial and U.S. naval vessels in the Red Sea.
The intense targeting of the Iranian-backed groups has been met with criticism in the U.S., with some lawmakers arguing the Biden administration’s response is too little too late and others saying it’s not enough.
The move has also roiled an already volatile situation in the Middle East, where the Iranian-proxy groups claim they are targeting U.S. forces in response to the Israeli war against Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza, which began in October.
Here’s what to know about the strikes:
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the arm of the U.S. military that oversees forces in the Middle East, began airstrikes Friday evening in Iraq and Syria against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force “and affiliated militia groups.”
U.S. forces struck more than 85 targets at seven locations — four in Syria and three in Iraq — using various war planes, including B-1 long-range bombers flown from the United States, dropping more than 125 precision munitions, according to CENTCOM.
The strikes also reportedly targeted the headquarters of the Popular Mobilization Forces, a coalition of Iraqi militia groups that includes Iranian-backed militants that provide official security in Baghdad, according to Iranian Telegram channels.
Areas struck included command and control centers, intelligence facilities and weapons storage facilities used by the Iran-backed militias to attack U.S. and coalition forces, the Pentagon later said in a statement.
The Biden administration has said the strikes are the first in a series of actions by Washington to respond to the attack in Jordan — which it has blamed on the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of militias backed by Tehran. The actions are intended to wipe out capabilities used to target American troops as well as send a message to ward off further attacks, officials say.
“The goal here is to get these attacks to stop. We’re not looking for a war with Iran,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Friday.
Separately, on Saturday the U.S. and the United Kingdom hit 36 Houthi targets at 13 locations in Yemen using ships and aircraft, focusing on facilities and equipment used to attack international merchant vessels and U.S. Navy ships in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Aden, according to the Pentagon.
This is the third set of strikes carried out by the U.S. in Yemen as part of a coalition that also includes the United Kingdom, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
The targets included multiple underground storage facilities, command and control, missile systems, UAV storage and operations sites, radars, and helicopters, the Defense Department said.
The U.S. military also continues to hit Houthi cruise missiles in Yemen poised to be launched into the Red Sea, knocking out six on Saturday alone. Washington officials say these strikes are defensive in nature.
The strikes come less than a week after three Army reservists were killed and some 40 were injured when a suicide drone hit Tower 22, a U.S. base in Jordan near the Syria border on Jan. 28.
The next day, President Biden met with members of his national security team, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Shortly thereafter, on Jan. 30, Biden announced he had decided how he planned to respond to the attack.
More strikes are expected in the coming days, with Austin on Friday stating: “This is the start of our response.”
Since Oct. 7, U.S. troops have been attacked over 160 times in Iraq, Syria and Jordan with a mix of rockets and one-way attack drones.
While the U.S. has not come out with a tally of casulties in the wake of the strikes in Iraq and Syria, Baghdad’s government has accused Washington of killing 16 people, including civilians, and wounded 25.
In Syria, meanwhile, the strikes reportedly killed 23 people who had been guarding the targeted locations, according to Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as reported by Reuters.
There is also no official U.S. tally of any casualties from the strikes in Yemen.
Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, who spoke to reporters Friday, said the strikes were carried out with the knowledge that those in the facilities would likely be killed.
Biden’s decision to authorize the strikes has been met with sharp criticisms on the right, with several GOP lawmakers insisting the commander-in-chief was too slow in his response or had not gone far enough.
“The tragic deaths of three U.S. troops in Jordan, perpetrated by Iran-backed militias, demanded a clear and forceful response. Unfortunately, the administration waited for a week and telegraphed to the world, including to Iran, the nature of our response,” House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said in a statement.
And Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said the airstrikes are “welcome,” but “too late” for those who died.
Other Republicans, including former national security adviser John Bolton, called for Biden to authorize strikes in Iran directly, so it can “send a message.”
That route is unlikely considering that any move hitting Iranian soil could provoke an all-out war between Washington and Tehran, something Biden has repeatedly said he does not want.
The strikes in Iraq are also expected to further intensify ongoing discussions between Baghdad and Washington over the future of the American military presence in the country, where some 2,500 troops are based to train and assist Iraq in the fight against Islamic State extremist group.
Iraqi officials complain their country is being turned back into a warzone as the U.S. and Iranian groups clash, with a government spokesperson on Saturday accusing the U.S. of violating international law and lying about the circumstances surrounding its retaliatory strikes.
U.S. officials said they informed the Iraqi government prior to carrying out the strikes, but Bassem Al-Awadi claims that Washington “deliberately deceived and falsified the facts, by announcing prior coordination to commit this aggression, which is a false claim aimed at misleading international public opinion and disavowing legal responsibility for this rejected crime in accordance with all international laws.”
In Iran, meanwhile, groups quickly condemned the U.S. for the attack with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warning in a Friday address that Tehran would respond.
“We have often clarified that Iran will not initiate a war but will answer bullies firmly and authoritatively,” Raisi said, according to state-run news outlet Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
And Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Saturday said the move worsens the chance of reaching a political solution in the Middle East.
The U.S. decision has “complicated the situation and made it more difficult to reach a political solution,” Amir-Abdollahian told the United Nations’ special envoy for Yemen while meeting in Tehran, according to IRNA.
He added that the U.S. strikes were a “continuation of Washington’s wrong and failed approach to resolve issues by force and through militarism.”
The United Nations Security Council is also expected to meet on Monday to discuss the U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria, CNN reported.
Filip Timotija contributed reporting.
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