The United States initiated airstrikes targeting Iranian militants in Iraq and Syria on Friday, marking the commencement of what officials anticipate to be a series of retaliatory measures following the recent deaths of three U.S. soldiers in Jordan, as confirmed by U.S. officials.
In a half-hour operation, U.S. bomber aircraft carried out strikes on over 85 targets across seven locations linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force positions and associated militia groups. The Quds Force serves as Iran’s primary unit responsible for clandestine operations outside its borders.
President Joe Biden’s decision to target the Quds Force signifies an escalation in the U.S. response to missile and drone attacks by militants in the region. Previous actions had been confined to aerial assaults on proxy forces in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, avoiding direct engagement with members of Iran’s military.
Utilizing over 125 precision munitions, U.S. forces targeted three facilities in Iraq and four in Syria. These included command-and-control centers, headquarters buildings, intelligence sites, rocket missile and drone storage facilities, as well as logistics and ammunition supply chain spots.
Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, the director of operations for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, disclosed that B1 bombers dispatched from the U.S. were employed in the operation. While stressing efforts to minimize civilian harm, Sims acknowledged the likelihood of casualties associated with individuals within the targeted facilities.
The U.S. presently has no plans to conduct strikes within Iran, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the planning. John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesperson, refrained from confirming whether options to attack inside Iran’s borders were presented to Biden.
The airstrikes aimed to “degrade and disrupt the capabilities” of IRGC-backed groups targeting U.S. personnel in the region, clarified Kirby, emphasizing that the U.S. is not seeking a war with Iran.
The timing of the strikes was weather-related, according to Sims, who stated that Friday’s conditions provided the “best opportunity” for the operation. The decision was unrelated to President Biden’s attendance at the dignified transfer of the three soldiers killed in Jordan earlier in the day, as affirmed by Kirby. A senior administration official had previously informed POLITICO that the retaliation was scheduled after this solemn event.
Both Sims and Kirby emphasized that the Friday strikes would not conclude America’s response to Iran. More attacks are anticipated, with two U.S. officials indicating that the next targets could be in Yemen. Sims and Kirby declined to provide details about future operations.
President Biden ordered these strikes in response to the Iran-backed attack on U.S. forces at Tower 22 in northeast Jordan last Sunday. The administration attributed the attack to the umbrella group, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq.
Biden, in a statement, asserted, “Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing. The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”
The Quds Force, one of the five branches of the IRGC, was designated a terrorist organization by former President Donald Trump in 2019. It was established during the Iran-Iraq war as a special intelligence unit and gained notoriety for training and equipping Islamic revolutionary groups across the Middle East.
The U.S. administration is navigating a delicate path as it responds to the recent drone attack in Jordan, attempting to balance a robust response to the attacks without triggering a full-scale conflict with Iran.
President Biden faces the challenge of either responding forcefully and risking war or exercising restraint and potentially appearing weak on the global stage in an election year.
While the Yemen-based Houthis continued attacks on vessels in the Red Sea, other Iranian proxies, such as Kataib Hezbollah, hinted at scaling back operations in the aftermath of the Jordan attack. Nonetheless, skepticism remains, with Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder emphasizing that actions speak louder than words.
President Biden, who indicated a decision on a response to the Jordan attack on Tuesday, is now confronted with the potential for a series of military strikes. Kirby had previously suggested that the administration’s response would follow a tiered approach.