Biden orders airstrikes in Syria, retaliating against Iranian-backed militias

WASHINGTON - President Joe Biden ordered air strikes on buildings in Syria Thursday, which the Pentagon says were used by Iranian-backed militias in retaliation for rocket strikes on US targets in neighboring Iraq.
At least 22 people were killed in the strikes, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday, confirming unconfirmed local reports.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby presented the bombings in eastern Syria as carefully calibrated, calling them "proportionate" and "defensive".
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هل لديك الجرأة على مقارنة مزايا فول الصويا الأمريك
يؤكد استعراض شامل حديث نشره طرف خارجي أن فول الصويا الأمريكي يتفوق على غيره من الأنواع ال رىب من حيثب صير حيثب من ر.
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The operation was the first known use of military force by the Biden government, which has been emphasizing plans for weeks to focus more on China's challenges.
The president's decision appeared to be aimed at sending a signal to Iran and its representatives in the region that Washington would not tolerate attacks on its staff in Iraq, even at a sensitive diplomatic moment.
Three missile strikes in Iraq in a week, including a deadly strike that hit a US-led coalition base in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, presented Biden with a test just weeks after assuming the presidency. The missile strikes coincided with a government diplomatic initiative attempting to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Image: A worker cleans broken glass in front of a damaged shop after a missile attack last night in Irbil, the capital of the autonomous northern Iraqi Kurdish region (Safin Hamed / AFP - Getty Images-File).
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The air strikes "were authorized in response to recent attacks on US and coalition personnel in Iraq and ongoing threats to those personnel," Kirby said in a statement.
The operation "destroyed several facilities at a border checkpoint used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups," including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
Iranian officials did not respond immediately to the strikes.
The Syrian government condemned the attack on Friday, calling it "cowardly US aggression" in a statement from the country's State Department released by state media.
The strikes violate international law and "will lead to consequences that will escalate the situation in the region," said the State Department of Foreign Affairs, according to the state news agency SANA.
Russia, a key supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad, said it only warned four or five minutes of the strike.
"This kind of notification has nothing to do when the strike is literally already on the way," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.
The US operated "illegally" in Syria and demanded better communication with the Biden government.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said most of the 22 people killed in the bombings were members of Iraqi militias. The monitoring group did not reveal details of how it got the number, but rights organization leader Rami Abdulrahman told NBC News that it was based on discussions with sources in Syria.
He added that the death toll is expected to rise due to the number of seriously wounded people.
The Iranian state broadcaster IRIB, meanwhile, reported that 17 "resistance fighters" were killed in the strikes, but did not provide any details about the source of this number, except citing "reports".
A senior U.S. defense official told NBC News Thursday evening that the target was a transit hub near the Iraqi-Syrian border used by militia fighters and that it was too early to say what losses the militants may have suffered have been.
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“The operation sends a clear message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel. At the same time, we deliberately acted to de-escalate the overall situation in Eastern Syria and Iraq, ”he said.
Two US planes were involved in the strikes that took place around 6 p.m. EST on Thursday or Friday at 2 a.m. in Syria, the official said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters who traveled with him that the government was "very aware of our approach".
"We are confident that the target was used by the same Shiite militia that carried out the strikes," Austin said, referring to recent missile attacks in Iraq on US and coalition personnel.
The Pentagon had previously said it was awaiting the results of an Iraqi investigation into the missile attack on Irbil.
"We have allowed and encouraged the Iraqis to study and develop information, and that has been very helpful for us in refining the goal," said Austin, speaking on the way to Washington after visiting California and Colorado.
Biden approved the operation Thursday morning, he said.
A civilian contractor was killed in the rocket attack on Irbil, a US soldier and others were wounded. At least two 107mm missiles landed on the base, which also houses Irbil's civilian international airport.
NBC News had previously reported that Iran-backed militias were most likely behind the Irbil missile attack and that the weapons and tactics were similar to previous attacks by Iran-related militias. However, it was unclear whether Iran promoted or ordered the missile attack.
An obscure group called Saraya Awliya al-Dam or Custodians of the Blood took responsibility for the Irbil attack. However, former diplomats and regional analysts said the group was just a front-line organization established by the main Shiite militias in Iraq.
Days later, following the rocket attack on the Irbil base, Iraqi Balad Air Force Base came under rocket fire, where a US defense company was operating the country's fighter jets. Two missiles then landed near the US embassy site in Baghdad.
Iran has refused any connection to the missile attacks.
In a phone call on Tuesday between Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the two leaders agreed that "those responsible for such attacks must be held fully accountable," according to a reading by the White House.
Dennis Ross, a former senior US diplomat who worked on Middle East policy under multiple presidents, said the government had reduced the risk of friction with the Iraqi government by hitting targets in Syria.
"The strike against facilities used by the militia across the border in Syria is reducing the risk of a backlash against the Iraqi government," Ross tweeted.
Dan De Luce and Mosheh Gains reported from Washington; Ali Arouzi reported from London; Amin Hossein Khodadadi reported from Tehran; and Charlene Gubash reported from Cairo.
The Associated Press helped.
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