Tuesday, March 5

Middle East crisis: US strikes more than 85 targets at 7 sites in Iraq and Syria against Iranian forces and proxies

The United States carried out a series of military strikes Friday against Iranian forces and the militias they support at seven sites in Syria and Iraq, marking a sharp escalation of the Middle East war that the Biden administration has since sought four months to avoid. .

The airstrikes, targeting command and control operations, intelligence centers, weapons installations and bunkers used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force and affiliated militias, fulfilled the promise of President Biden to respond to a drone attack in Jordan on Sunday that killed three Americans. soldiers and injured at least 40 other soldiers.

The military action was also intended to send a message to Iran and the militias it supports that continued attacks on U.S. troops in the region and on commercial shipping in the Red Sea would prompt a response.

The strikes hit more than 85 targets in different locations using more than 125 precision-guided munitions, according to a statement from the US Central Command.

“Last Sunday, three American soldiers were killed in Jordan by a drone launched by militant groups supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” President Biden said in a statement. “Our response began today.”

Mr. Biden approved the strikes earlier in the week. He even telegraphed their arrival when he told reporters Tuesday that he had made a decision on responding to the drone attack on a remote outpost in Jordan. Middle East analysts said many Revolutionary Guard trainers, fearing being hit, returned to Iran this week as militia leaders go into hiding.

But U.S. officials made clear that Friday night’s attacks would be followed by others over the coming days, weeks and perhaps even months. Two U.S. officials said the United States also conducted cyber operations against Iranian targets on Friday, but declined to provide details.

The U.S. response, Mr. Biden said in his statement Friday, “will continue at times and places of our choosing.”

“The United States is not seeking to create conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world,” he said. “But let anyone who might seek to harm us know this: If you harm an American, we will respond. »

U.S. bombers hit 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, told reporters Friday evening that the Iraqi government had been informed before the strikes.

Mr Kirby said the targets at each site were chosen because they were linked to specific attacks on US troops in the region and to avoid civilian casualties. He said he did not know whether any Iranians or militia members were killed or injured in the attack.

The aim of the strikes, Mr. Kirby said, was to “remove the ability” of militias to continue striking American troops. “It wasn’t just a texting routine tonight.”

By avoiding targets in Iran, the White House and Central Command are trying to send a message of deterrence while controlling escalation. It is clear from statements from the White House and Tehran that neither the United States nor Iran desires a broader war. But, as the strike in Jordan showed, any military action carries a risk of miscalculation.

The Biden administration carried out what officials called a “tiered” response: striking multiple targets from the air. The Pentagon deployed two U.S. B-1B bombers, which took off from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, early Friday and flew more than 6,000 miles to deliver their munitions payload from the skies above of Iraq and Syria.

Sending B1-B bombers from U.S. soil had several advantages, officials said. The B-1Bs can carry dozens of precision munitions, allowing commanders in the region to keep their land-based and carrier-based attack aircraft in reserve for later strikes, a U.S. official said. Middle Eastern countries hosting US attack aircraft are increasingly reluctant to have their bases used for offensive strikes in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, to avoid being seen as supporting Israel . The strikes on sites in the Middle East with aircraft launched from the United States and refueled in flight are a muscular demonstration of global reach and capability, the official said.

“The beauty of the American bomber is that we can strike anywhere in the world at a time of our choosing,” Lt. Gen. Douglas A. Sims, director of the Army’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday evening .

Officials said the strike was scheduled for clear weather. Although the military can strike when there is cloud cover, a clear evening allows for a greater degree of confidence.

General Sims said that once daylight broke out in Iraq and Syria on Saturday, military analysts would take a close look at the struck targets. But he added that the Pentagon was convinced the bombers had hit “exactly what they wanted to hit.” Secondary explosions showed that the Air Force plans hit the munitions depots they were targeting, he said.

In a statement released later Friday, Iraqi armed forces spokesman Maj. General Yahya Rasool called the US action in Iraq “unacceptable” and a “violation of Iraqi sovereignty”.

With Friday’s strikes, the administration entered a new phase in its efforts to manage the widening conflict, which began Oct. 7 when the militant group Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people.

Since then, Israel’s retaliation has killed more than 26,000 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Mr. Biden and his top aides have been reluctant to take steps that could drag the United States into a broader war in an already extremely unstable region. “That’s not what I’m looking for,” he told reporters Tuesday.

Similarly, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps said Wednesday that Tehran was “not looking for war either.” And Kata’ib Hezbollah, one of the groups that U.S. officials say may be responsible for the attack, announced Tuesday to everyone’s surprise that it was suspending its military operations in Iraq, where it operates. But the head of the Revolutionary Guard Corps also warned that Iran was ready to retaliate if attacked.

With the latest strikes, this possibility is getting closer. Administration officials said Mr. Biden had little choice but to retaliate after the Jordan strike killed the three American soldiers, especially since their deaths came amid a constant stream of attacks from Iranian-backed groups like the Houthis in Yemen and Kata’ib Hezbollah. in Iraq. And now experts say there is a real fear that Iran could be drawn further into the fray.

Mr. Biden has come under pressure from Republicans at home to respond forcefully to the attacks in Jordan. But critics on Capitol Hill said Friday that the president’s warnings of imminent strikes allowed Iranian and militia commanders and advisers to flee.

“The Biden administration has spent nearly a week foolishly telegraphing America’s intentions to our adversaries, giving them time to move and hide,” said Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the nation’s top Republican. Committee on Armed Services.

Friday’s U.S. strikes could be just the start of a long series of attacks intended to damage or destroy the ability of Iranian-backed militias to launch missiles, drones and attack U.S. troops in Iraq, in Syria and Jordan. Militias have carried out at least 166 such attacks since October 7, according to the Pentagon.

Mr. Kirby underscored this strategy when he said Tuesday that it was “very possible” that the United States would take “not just one action, but potentially multiple actions, over a period of time.”

B-1B firefighters were in the air Friday as Mr. Biden witnessed the dignified transfer of the three soldiers killed in Jordan: Sergeant William Jerome Rivers, 46, Specialist Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, and Specialist Breonna Alexsondria Moffett , 23 years. Their remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Friday. The Army Reserve said this week it had posthumously promoted Specialists Moffett and Sanders to the rank of sergeant, and Sergeant Rivers to the rank of staff sergeant.