Saturday, July 20

Israel-Hamas war and news in the Middle East: latest updates

Israel-Hamas war and news in the Middle East: latest updates

U.S. warplanes destroyed or seriously damaged most of the Iranian and militia targets they struck in Syria and Iraq on Friday, according to the Pentagon, the first major rescuers in what President Biden and his aides have said will be a sustained campaign.

Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said Monday that “more than 80” of approximately 85 targets in Syria and Iraq had been destroyed or rendered inoperable. The targets, he said, included command centers; intelligence centers; depots for rockets, missiles and attack drones; as well as logistics and ammunition bunkers.

It is the first military assessment of strikes carried out in response to a drone attack in Jordan by an Iran-backed militia in Iraq on Jan. 28 that killed three U.S. troops and injured at least 40 other service members.

“This is the start of our response, and additional steps will be taken,” General Ryder told reporters, without elaborating. “We are not seeking conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else, but attacks on U.S. forces will not be tolerated.”

But the results also show the limits of the American campaign so far. In particular, U.S. officials acknowledge that targeted militias still retain the majority of their ability to carry out future attacks.

There are no early indications that Iranian advisers were killed in Friday’s strikes, military officials said, but Gen. Ryder said there were likely coincidences. Syria and Iraq said at least 39 people – 23 in Syria and 16 in Iraq – were killed in Friday’s strikes, among whom the Iraqi government said were civilians.

The attacks in both countries, along with U.S.-led strikes Saturday against 36 Houthi targets in northern Yemen, have brought the region closer to a broader conflict, even as the administration insists she doesn’t want war with Iran. Instead, U.S. officials say they are focused on reducing the militias’ formidable arsenals and deterring further attacks on U.S. troops, as well as merchant ships, in the Red Sea.

Rubble of a destroyed building in Al-Qaim, Iraq, after a US airstrike.Credit…Reuters

The militias, however, do not seem discouraged. Hours after Friday’s strikes, an Iranian-backed militia fired two rockets at a U.S. military outpost in northeastern Syria, where troops are helping clear out remnants of Islamic State. On Sunday, a drone loaded with explosives was fired at another US outpost in northeastern Syria. The rockets caused no American damage or injuries, the Pentagon said. On Sunday, the military’s Central Command said U.S. forces destroyed five Houthi land-based and anti-ship cruise missiles that posed an imminent threat.

On Monday, U.S. forces carried out a strike against two explosive-laden naval drones that Central Command said posed an imminent threat to shipping in the region.

In total, Iran-backed militias have carried out at least 166 drone, rocket and missile attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria and Jordan since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that killed 1,200 people. in Israel. The Houthis have carried out at least three dozen attacks on ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The militia says its attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas.

Experts and national security officials say privately that to truly degrade the capabilities of Shiite militias, the United States should wage a year-long campaign similar to the six-year effort to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Even then, officials say, the militias, with Iranian support, could likely survive longer than the Islamic State, which has come under pressure from the United States and Iran, and even from the Russia.

US officials warned over the weekend and Monday that further strikes were planned in what appears to be an open-ended campaign not only in Yemen – where the US and Britain first launched air strikes. major retaliatory strikes on January 11 – but now also in Yemen. Syria and Iraq to avenge the deaths of three army reservists, killed at an isolated supply base.

“The president was clear when he ordered them and when he carried them out, that was the beginning of our response and there will be more to come,” Jake Sullivan, the state adviser, said on Sunday. national security, on CNN’s “State of the Union.” , speaking about the strikes in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Sullivan said he did not want to “telegraph our moves” by revealing details of future actions. But he added that the goal was to punish those who attack Americans without triggering a direct confrontation with Iran.

Analysts say there are already signs that the most recent strikes are having an impact in Tehran, where a largely unpopular government, already struggling with a weak economy, outbreaks of mass protests and terrorism, has done little want all-out war with the United States.

But regional experts say it could prove more difficult to rein in Iran’s proxies, which depend on Tehran for weapons, intelligence and financing.

“Around 2020, Iran began giving blanket authorization to these groups to attack U.S. positions in Iraq and Syria,” said Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., retired head of U.S. Central Command , on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Sunday. “They have the ability to generate these attacks without returning directly to Iran. »

A major question for Mr. Biden and his national security aides is what additional targets in Iraq and Syria could be struck.

On Friday, U.S. B-1B bombers and other fighter jets struck targets at four sites in Syria and three sites in Iraq during a 30-minute attack, U.S. officials said. John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the targets at each site were chosen because they were linked to specific attacks on U.S. troops in the region and to avoid civilian casualties.

By avoiding targets in Iran, the White House and Central Command are trying to send a message of deterrence while controlling escalation, U.S. officials said. It is clear from statements from the White House and Tehran that neither side wants a broader war. But, as the strike in Jordan showed, any military action carries a risk of miscalculation.

Helene Cooper reports contributed.