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US begins wave of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for Jordan drone attack that killed three US troops
2 February 2024, 21:38 | Updated: 2 February 2024, 22:38
The United States has begun a wave of airstrikes in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for a fatal drone attack on a Jordan military base that killed three US soldiers.
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More than 85 targets were hit in Iraq and Syria against Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force and its affiliated militia groups.
The initial strikes took place after 9pm GMT and were carried out by both manned and unmanned aircraft aimed at militant facilities, including ammunition storage and command centres.
Some 125 precision munitions were used to carry out the retaliatory attacks, the US Central Command said.
It comes after a drone attack in Jordan that killed three US troops on Sunday and injured around 40 others.
In a statement following the attacks, President Joe Biden said the retaliatory strikes would continue "at times and places of our choosing".
"This afternoon, at my direction, US military forces struck targets at facilities in Iraq and Syria that the IRGC [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps] and affiliated militia use to attack US forces.
"Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing," he said.
"The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond."
CENTCOM Statement on U.S. Strikes in Iraq and Syria— U.S. Central Command (@CENTCOM) February 2, 2024
At 4:00 p.m. (EST) Feb. 02, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) forces conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militia groups. U.S. military forces… pic.twitter.com/HeLMFDx9zY
Biden and other top US leaders have been warning for days that it would retaliate at the militias - warning of a "tiered response" over time.
It is still unclear as to the extent of the damage and fatalities inflicted by the US strikes, or whether the days of warnings have sent militia members scattering into hiding.
A recent statement released by one of the main Iran-backed militias, Kataeb Hezbollah, said it was suspending attacks on American troops. It evidently had no impact on the US plans to strike back.
Iran has denied it was behind the Jordan strike.
Earlier today, Biden and top defence leaders visited Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to stand on ceremony and join grieving families as the remains of the three Army Reserve soldiers' remains were brought home.
The solemn ritual, called a dignified transfer, has become relatively uncommon in recent years as the US has withdrawn from conflicts abroad.
The president and First Lady Jill Biden witnessed the transfer of the remains of the troops killed in Sunday's attack, besides Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, and General CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They also met members of the grieving families before the ceremony.
Sgt William Jerome Rivers, 46, Sgt Kennedy Sanders, 24, and Sgt Breonna Moffett, 23, were all killed on Sunday, each of them from the state of Georgia. Sanders and Moffett were posthumously promoted to sergeant rank.
The deaths were the first US fatalities blamed on Iran-backed militia groups, who for months have been intensifying their attacks on American forces in the region following the onset of the Israel-Hamas war in October.
Separately, two US Navy Seals died in a January mission to board an unflagged ship that was carrying illicit Iranian-made weapons to Yemen.
"These service members embodied the very best of our nation, unwavering in their bravery. Unflinching in their duty. Unbending in their commitment to our country, risking their own safety for the safety of their fellow Americans, and our allies and partners with whom we stand in the fight against terrorism," Biden said earlier this week. "It is a fight we will not cease."
At Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol, Biden acknowledged the service members by name, again vowing to never forget their sacrifice to the nation. "They risked it all," the president said.
Friday is the second dignified transfer Mr Biden has attended as president. In August 2021, he took part in the ritual for the 13 service members killed during the suicide bombing in Kabul.
The US government said this week that the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias that includes the group Kataib Hezbollah, had planned, resourced and facilitated the overnight drone attack.
More than 40 troops were also injured on Sunday at Tower 22, a secretive US military desert outpost whose location allows US forces to infiltrate and quietly leave Syria.