The Weekend Australian

Biden unleashes first air strike

- GORDON LUBOLD NANCY A. YOUSSEF

The US military launched on Friday an air strike in Syria targeting groups affiliated with an Iranbacked militia in response to deadly rocket attacks in northern Iraq earlier this month.

The strike was believed to have destroyed a string of small buildings used by militia groups to house and transport weaponry, according to one US official.

The Syrian Observator­y for Human Rights said that 17 people were killed after the strike hit three trucks loaded with munitions coming from Iraq near the Syrian city of Bukamal.

The air strike was the first instance in which the Biden administra­tion had approved the use of military force against an adversary since taking office last month.

A series of rocket attacks on February 15 in Arbil, Iraq, killed a Filipino who was a US contractor, while injuring a US service member and other contractor­s. Since then, the Biden administra­tion has been deliberati­ng a response.

President Joe Biden mentioned the rocket attacks in a phone call on Tuesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. A White House statement afterwards said the two agreed and “those responsibl­e for such attacks must be held fully to account”.

The strike appeared to be the most restrained response available. The operation was planned over several days, US officials said.

“The operation sends an unambiguou­s message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. “At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to deescalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq.”

The strike was both defensive and offensive, another official said, meaning that it was in response to the Arbil attack, while also targeting weapons used against US interests by Iran-backed militias.

The administra­tion decision to launch the strike comes, as the US is attempting to restart the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. While the administra­tion has said through its European allies that it would be willing to start talks, Iran has said the US must lift sanctions first.

The strike was observed throughout the area. The security website Aurora Intel said in a tweet: “Three explosions were reported in the vicinity of (Abu Kamal). Reports suggest a convoy of vehicles passed through the crossing before the air strike was conducted, possible weapons movement if confirmed.”

In the past year, eastern Syria has been an area of intense military activity by Iran-backed groups aimed at outflankin­g US influence in northern Iraq. In early 2020, after Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US air strike, the Iranians brought 50 thermal rockets — a type of high-performanc­e missile — from Deir Ezzour airport in Syria to areas near the Iraqi border, according to a person familiar with US intelligen­ce in the region.

The arsenal was to be used as a deterrent against any US attempt to cut a logistic highway between

‘President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel’

JOHN KIRBY PENTAGON SPOKESMAN

Tehran and Damascus. It was also a way to open a new launch pad for potential attacks against US troops in Iraq.

The thermal rockets were stored in an undergroun­d warehouse, located in an Iranian militia headquarte­rs and other locations in eastern Syria, the operative said. In addition, these storage locations host 10 Iranian-made Fajr-100 missiles and Russian-made mediumrang­e missiles, he added.

 ?? AFP ?? Joe Biden, in Washington on Friday, ordered the strike on Iranian-backed militias in response to missile attacks on US facilities
AFP Joe Biden, in Washington on Friday, ordered the strike on Iranian-backed militias in response to missile attacks on US facilities

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