US Strikes Targets in Iraq, Syria Used by Iranian-Backed Militias

A rocket attack targeted U.S. forces in Syria Monday, hours after the U.S. military said it struck three targets near the border between Syria and Iraq used by Iranian-backed militias to carry out drone attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities.“At approx. 7:44 PM local time, U.S. Forces in Syria were attacked by multiple rockets. There are no injuries, and damage is being assessed,” U.S. Colonel Wayne Marotto, the spokesman for the international military intervention against Islamic State, wrote on Twitter.Marotto did not attribute responsibility for the rocket attack.Overnight, the U.S. struck weapons storage and operational facilities used by militias such as Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby. Two of the targets were inside Syria and one was inside Iraq.“The attacks against our troops need to stop, and that is why the president ordered the operation last night in self-defense of our personnel,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday.U.S. troops in Iraq have come under attack from drone strikes three times in a “little over a month,” General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told VOA in an interview in Cairo on June 15. The attacks resulted in no casualties.“There are a lot of drones in Iraq. Some of them are indigenous. Some of them came from Iran. We’re certain of that,” McKenzie said. Pentagon spokesperson Navy Commander Jessica McNulty added on Monday that “Iran-backed militias have conducted at least five one-way UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) attacks against facilities used by U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq since April, as well as ongoing rocket attacks against U.S. and coalition forces.”“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are well-postured to defend our forces around the region and respond to any threats or attacks,” she said.Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday condemned the U.S. airstrike on its soil, calling it a violation of national sovereignty that breached international conventions. Iraq’s military said its country should not be an arena “for settling scores.”Psaki noted that the U.S. agrees with a call for de-escalation from the Iraqi prime minister but said Monday the administration felt confident in its “legal justification” for the strikes.”President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel,” the Pentagon’s John Kirby said in a late Sunday statement, adding that the strikes were “appropriately limited in scope.”Rocket and drone attacks against coalition troops have been somewhat frequent since a drone strike in January 2020 near the Baghdad airport killed Qasem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the strike.Sunday’s strikes were the second time that the Biden administration has ordered attacks against Iranian-backed groups. In late February, the U.S. targeted buildings in Syria belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militias responsible for attacks against American and allied personnel in Iraq.During Monday’s joint press conference with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio in Rome, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. took “necessary, appropriate, deliberate action” designed to limit the risk of escalation while sending a “clear and unambiguous” message of deterrence.Psaki told reporters the White House had notified some members of Congress ahead of the strikes and was in close touch with partners in the region.Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, shared concern that the pace of attacks on U.S. personnel and the number of retaliatory strikes from Iran-backed groups was “starting to look like what would qualify as a pattern of hostilities under the War Powers Act.””Both the Constitution and the War Powers Act require the president to come to Congress for a war declaration under these circumstances,” Murphy said in a statement.Senator Jim Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke out against Iranian-backed militias and said the attacks “highlight the continued need” for Congress’ 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which Congress is currently debating whether to revoke.The AUMF authorizes all necessary force against entities the president determines aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such terrorists, in order to prevent any future attacks against the United States.”Iran’s persistent attacks on American personnel via its proxies cannot be tolerated,” Inhofe said in a statement. “We need a more focused and clear approach on Iran from President Biden — not one that occasionally responds to its threats, but too often seeks to appease it.”Nike Ching contributed to this report.