The U.S. launched airstrikes in Iraq Thursday, American officials said, targeting the Iranian-backed Shia militia members believed responsible for the rocket attack that killed and wounded American and British troops at a base north of Baghdad.
One U.S. official said multiple strikes targeted Kataib Hezbollah weapons facilities inside Iraq. The strikes were joint operation with the British, that official said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because operations were still going on.
The strikes marked a rapid escalation in tensions with Tehran and its proxy groups in Iraq, just two months after Iran carried out a massive ballistic missile attack against American troops at a base in Iraq.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below
U.S. defense leaders on Thursday threatened a retaliatory strike against Iranian-backed Shia militia in Iraq, saying they know who launched the rockets in Iraq that killed and wounded U.S. and coalition troops and the attackers will be held accountable.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon that President Donald Trump on Wednesday night gave him the authority to do what he needs to do. The rapidly unfolding events signaled a renewed spike in tensions with Tehran and its proxy groups in Iraq, just two months after Iran carried out a massive ballistic missile attack against American troops at a base in Iraq.
“We’re going to take this one step at a time, but we’ve got to hold the perpetrators accountable,” Esper said. “You don’t get to shoot at our bases and kill and wound Americans and get away with it.”
At the White House, Trump said the attackers were a rebel group that “mostly likely looked like it could be backed by Iran. And we’ll see what the response is.” And Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters the U.S. knows ”with a high degree of certainty” who launched the attack.
Esper and Milley declined to provide any more information about any impending U.S. retaliation for the attack at Camp Taji north of Baghdad. But Esper said all options are on the table. On Capitol Hill, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, told senators that the deaths of U.S. and coalition troops is a “red line” for the U.S., but said he doesn’t think Iran has “a good understanding of where our red line is.”
Asked if any counterattack could include a strike inside Iran, Esper said, “We are focused on the group that we believe perpetrated this in Iraq.”
Two U.S. troops and one British service member were killed and 14 other personnel were wounded when 18 rockets hit the base on Wednesday. The U.S. military said the 107 mm Katyusha rockets were fired from a truck launcher that was found by Iraqi security forces near the base after the attack.