US forces conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against five facilities the Pentagon says are tied to an Iranian-backed militia blamed for a series of attacks on joint US-Iraq military facilities housing American forces.
The death toll from the drone attacks by the United States against Kata’ib Hezbollah militia in Iraq stands at 25, with 51 people injured, the Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Forces, also known as Hashd al-Shaabi, said in a statement in the early hours of Monday morning. Earlier, Hashd al-Shaabi reported of 19 people killed and 35 others injured.
The number of casualties may grow, as some remain in critical condition.
On Sunday, the US forces have carried out strikes targeting five Kata’ib Hezbollah facilities in Syria and Iraq, including weapons storage locations and command and control bases, the US Defence Department said in a statement. The Pentagon said it was retaliation for the group’s recent attack on a US base near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
On Friday, the US accused Kata’ib Hezbollah of involvement in a deadly rocket attack on the K1 military base outside Kirkuk. The attack claimed the life of a US civilian contractor and left several US service members with light injuries.
No group took immediate responsibility for Friday’s attack.
precision defensive strikes
US strikes on Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and Syria come after a contractor is killed
Kata’ib Hezbollah, not to be confused with the Hezbollah group of Lebanon, is a paramilitary force with Shia ideology established in 2007 and operating under the Hashd al-Shaabi umbrella. Washington designates them as terrorists.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman described the strikes against the group as “precision defensive strikes” that “will degrade” the group’s ability to conduct future attacks against coalition forces.
Defence Secretary Mark Esper briefed President Donald Trump Saturday before carrying them out with the President’s approval, according to a US official familiar with the strikes.
#BREAKING: CJTF-Op. #InherentResolve released these images showing before and after the airstrike against five targets belonging to the Kataib Hezbollah (#PMU‘s 45th Brigade) in #AlQaim, west of #Iraq. pic.twitter.com/z1ojgoxIbp
— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) December 29, 2019
US officials travel to discuss strikes with Trump
Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, travelled Sunday to Mar-a-Lago to discuss the strikes with Trump.
US officials said the five targets included three Kataib Hezbollah locations in Iraq and two in Syria. Those locations included weapon storage facilities and command and control locations that the group uses “to plan and execute attacks on OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve) coalition forces,” according to the Pentagon.
The strikes all came from the air using F-15 Strike Eagle fighter planes, the US official familiar with the strikes said. Secondary explosions were observed after some of the strikes, indicating the sights may have housed ammunition.
While there were multiple strikes, the sites being hit were relatively small, the official a spokes person said. Whether the US decides to strike further will depend on the activities of the militia, they said, and whether it conducts additional attacks against US interests.
American officials have blamed the group for attacks like one on Friday on a base near Kirkuk, Iraq, that killed a US civilian contractor and injured four other US service members.
Hoffman asserted again in his statement that the group has links to Iranian forces.
“KH has a strong linkage with Iran’s Quds Force and has repeatedly received lethal aid and other support from Iran that it has used to attack OIR coalition forces,” he said.
The White House had no additional comment when reached by CNN on Sunday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi said the Baghdad government rejects “unilateral action” by coalition forces inside his country, according to a statement carried on Iraqi state TV Al Iraqiya. “We have already confirmed our rejection of any unilateral action by coalition forces or any other forces inside Iraq. We consider it a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and a dangerous escalation that threatens the security of Iraq and the region,” the Iraqi prime minister said.
US officials have grown increasingly concerned as the threat to US and coalition forces became more immediate. In the last several weeks, a series of rocket attacks have targeted military installations in Iraq where US and coalition personnel are stationed. US officials linked them to Kataib Hezbollah, citing similarities in the attacks.
And behind the militant group, US officials pointed to Iran.
On the last day of May, a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, wounded four US servicemen. While the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, Washington blamed Iran.
In June, two more tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman and Iran downed a US drone, bringing Trump to the very verge of ordering a strike on Iran before he called it off at the last minute. In August, up to 10 Houthi drones targeted a Saudi oil facility and in September, cruise missiles caused significant damage to another Saudi oil facility. The US, Saudi Arabia and European nations pointed the finger at Iran.
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