Syria: US military strikes pro-Iranian militias

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The United States on Thursday hit infrastructure used by pro-Iran militias in northeastern Syria, killing 17 in Joe Biden’s administration’s first military operation in response to recent attacks on Western interests in Iraq.

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Describing this military operation of “defensive”, the spokesman of the American Department of Defense John Kirby specified that strikes had destroyed “multiple infrastructures located at a border post used by militias supported by Iran, in particular the Kataeb Hezbollah ”.

“The strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against US and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and ongoing threats against such personnel,” he said.

According to preliminary information from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (OSDH), the strikes destroyed three trucks of ammunition arriving from Iraq at an illegal border post south of the Syrian city of Boukamal.

“There are a lot of deaths. At least 17 fighters perished, according to a preliminary assessment, all members of Hachd al-Chaabi, ”OSDH director Rami Abdel Rahmane told AFP, referring to the powerful coalition of pro-Iran Iraqi paramilitaries. .

As President Joe Biden awaits a gesture from Tehran before reinstating the agreement Washington withdrew in 2018 under Donald Trump’s administration, three attacks have been blamed on pro-Iranian armed groups in recent days.

On Monday, rockets fell near the US embassy in Baghdad. On Saturday, gunfire targeted the Iraqi air base of Balad, further north, injuring an Iraqi employee of a US company responsible for the maintenance of F-16s.

“Calculated” reprisals

On February 15, rockets hit a military base hosting foreign coalition troops at Erbil airport (north). Two people were killed, including a foreign civilian contractor working with the coalition.

According to US officials, the modus operandi is the same as for the dozens of attacks against Western interests between late 2019 and late 2020.

“It’s the same style of attacks and intelligence information shows that others will follow,” an American official told AFP on Wednesday, on condition of anonymity.

The recent attacks came after months of relative calm over a truce accepted by pro-Iran factions in the face of threats from the United States to shut down its diplomatic mission.

On Thursday, the Pentagon spokesman stressed that “this proportionate military response has been carried out in parallel with diplomatic measures, in particular consultations with the partners of the anti-jihadist coalition” in Iraq and Syria.

“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will protect US forces and those of the coalition,” he concluded. “At the same time, we have acted in a calculated way, in order to calm the situation in eastern Syria and in Iraq”.

After the last shots on Monday, Washington had let it be known that Iran would be held “responsible for the actions of its associates who attack Americans”, but stressed that its forces would avoid fueling an “escalation”.

Thursday’s strike appears as a warning to Tehran, which may be tempted to increase its leeway in the event of negotiations with the United States.