US carries out airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias in Iraq

The US carried out airstrikes in Iraq targeting facilities used by Iranian-backed militias in the country on Tuesday following repeated attacks on US forces, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced in a statement.

The strikes targeted three facilities used by Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah and other Tehran-affiliated groups in Iraq.

Austin said in the statement that the strikes “are in direct response to a series of escalatory attacks against US and coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria” by Iranian-backed militia groups.

US Central Command also released a statement on Tuesday saying US forces “conducted unilateral airstrikes” targeting “KH headquarters, storage, and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities.”

According to a US defense official, the strikes were carried out in two sites in western Iraq, including Al-Qa’im near the Syrian border, as well as Jurf al-Sakhar south of Baghdad.

“I am grateful for both the skill and professionalism with which our personnel planned and conducted these strikes and the continued efforts of our troops on the ground as they work with regional partners to further dismantle and degrade ISIS,” Austin said in Tuesday’s statement.

“The President and I will not hesitate to take necessary action to defend them and our interests. We do not seek to escalate conflict in the region. We are fully prepared to take further measures to protect our people and our facilities. We call on these groups and their Iranian sponsors to immediately cease these attacks,” Austin added.

The airstrikes killed up to seven Kataib Hezbollah fighters, according to to US defense officials, who on Wednesday cited the US’ preliminary battle damage assessment.

The strikes also destroyed two headquarters buildings and an intelligence facility used by the Iran-backed militant group and associated groups, the officials said.

At least one Kataib Hezbollah fighter was killed and two were injured following the US airstrikes, according to a statement from the Popular Mobilization Front operation command.

Jafar al-Hussaini, the military spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah, wrote on X that the group will “continue to strike the strongholds of the enemies, in support of our people in Gaza until the brutal killing machine backed by America stops, and the complete siege is lifted. This is the promise of the free people.”

The strikes come just days after US personnel at Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq were injured in a ballistic missile and rocket attack on the base. While most missiles and rockets were intercepted by the base’s air defenses, some projectiles made impact, US Central Command said over the weekend.

The initial assessment is that Kataib Hezbollah was responsible for the ballistic missile attack, the defense official said.

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said Tuesday that a total of four US troops were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury as a result of the attack, and all had since returned to duty.

The strikes on Tuesday are the first in Iraq since the beginning of the month, when the US targeted a member of an Iranian proxy group operating in the country who one US official said had “US blood on his hands.” They also come after multiple strikes against the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen over the last week and a half, as the US looks to rein in the aggressive actions of Iranian-backed groups in the Middle East amid heightened tensions in the region.

US forces in Iraq and Syria have come under attack at least 151 times since attacks began on October 17, according to a US official — 10 days after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. And while officials have not directly connected the two situations, the ongoing attacks on US forces have fed into heightened tensions and concerns about broader conflict breaking out in the region, particularly when coupled with the regular attacks on commercial shipping by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

“We’ve continued to see attacks on our forces since October 17th in Iraq and Syria. The attack that we saw over the weekend was just a larger scale attack,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said Monday. “But again, we don’t seek conflict, we don’t want to see this widen out to a regional war, we don’t want … to continue to see our forces being put at risk.”

The US’ actions against the Iran-backed militias in Iraq have appeared to strain tensions between the US and the Iraqi government. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani told Reuters this month that that there should be a “quick” time frame for the US-led coalition’s exit from the country. The US has maintained that it is in Iraq at the invitation of its government, as part of the ongoing mission to defeat ISIS.

“There is a need to reorganize this relationship so that it is not a target or justification for any party, internal or foreign, to tamper with stability in Iraq and the region,” Sudani said. Ryder said at the Pentagon on Tuesday that he was not aware “of any official notifications” to the Pentagon regarding a withdrawal of US forces.

The US has carried out a number of strikes in Iraq and Syria in response to the attacks on coalition forces, placing blame squarely on Iran for supporting the militia groups carrying out the attacks.

In October, following US airstrikes on facilities linked to Iranian-backed militias, a senior defense official said Tehran was “the center of gravity” for the attacks, and that “Iranian fingerprints are all over this.”

“Tehran and Iranian senior leaders are funding, arming, equipping, training and directing a whole plethora of militia groups across the region, and they have escalated attacks against US forces since October 17, which is why we took self-defense action,” the official said.

While the attacks in Iraq and Syria have been ongoing, the US has also been managing regular attacks by the Houthis in Yemen on commercial shipping. The strikes on Tuesday followed strikes on the Houthis on Monday, carried out by the US and UK, which a senior official said were successful in striking weapons storage sites, drone systems, and missiles.

The US also conducted strikes Tuesday evening against two Houthi anti-ship missiles that were aimed into the Southern Red Sea and were prepared to launch, according to US Central Command.

“U.S. forces identified the missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined that they presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the U.S. Navy ships in the region. U.S. forces subsequently struck and destroyed the missiles in self-defense,” CENTCOM said in a statement.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Nechirvan Mando and Maija Ehlinger contributed to this report.

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