Beirut: US air strikes against Iran-backed armed groups on the Syrian-Iraqi border killed at least seven fighters overnight into Monday, sparking immediate calls for revenge and fears of a new escalation between Washington and Tehran.
The second such raid on pro-Iran targets since US President Joe Biden took office, described by the Pentagon as “retaliatory”, came despite faltering efforts to revive a key deal over Iran’s nuclear programme.
US defence spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that three military facilities used by Iran-backed militia had been hit — two in Syria and one in Iraq.
Kirby said that the targets had been used by “Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq.”
Kataeb Hezbollah and Kataeb Sayyid al-Shuhada, two Iraqi armed factions with close ties to Tehran, were among the “several Iran-backed militia groups” that had used the facilities, Kirby said.
US interests in Iraq, where 2,500 American troops are deployed as part of an international coalition to fight the jihadist Islamic State group, have been targeted in more than 40 attacks this year.
The vast majority have been bombs against logistics convoys, while 14 were rocket attacks including some claimed by pro-Iran factions hoping to pressure Washington into withdrawing all its troops.
“Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting US interests in Iraq, the president directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks,” Kirby said.
“Specifically, the US strikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries,” he added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a broad network of sources on the ground, said seven fighters had been killed in the strikes in the early hours of Monday morning local time.
The war monitor also said at least six more fighters were wounded in the raid, among whose targets was an arms depots near Albu Kamal, a Syrian town which lies where the border crosses the Euphrates river. AFP