The U.S. on Tuesday said it struck three sites used by Iranian-backed militia fighters in Iraq as part of a defensive response to repeated attacks on American forces in the Middle East.
President Biden ordered strikes on three Iraqi facilities used by Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kataib Hezbollah. The statement did not say exactly where in Iraq the U.S. strikes were carried out.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said they were “precision strikes” launched in “direct response to a series of escalatory attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias.”
Austin said the U.S. does “not seek to escalate conflict in the region” but is “fully prepared to take further measures to protect our people and our facilities.”
“The president and I will not hesitate to take necessary action to defend them and our interests,” Austin said in the statement. “We call on these groups and their Iranian sponsors to immediately cease these attacks.”
Iranian-backed groups have attacked the U.S. more than 150 times in Iraq and Syria since Oct. 17, following the breakout of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
The Houthi rebels in Yemen have also attacked U.S. ships and merchant boats more than 30 times in the Red Sea since late November.
Conflict in Iraq has forced the country to consider removing the roughly 2,500 U.S. troops still operating in Iraq. American troops are there at the invitation of Iraq to counter the Islamist extremist group ISIS.
Iraq views the strikes as a violation of its sovereign territory and condemned the U.S. after a strike earlier this month killed a senior Iranian-backed militia leader in Baghdad.
Iraq also condemned Iran after it struck a site in Erbil this month that allegedly served as an Israeli spy base.