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US strikes on Iran-backed militia in Syria hit several areas on Iraqi border: Report

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A US attack at dawn targeted several areas in Eastern Syria on the Syrian-Iraqi border, Syrian state television reported on Friday citing its reporter in Deir al-Zor.

Syrian state-owned Ekhbariya TV said the strikes had been at dawn against several targets near the Syrian-Iraqi border, and quoted a medical source at a hospital in the area and other unspecified local sources as saying 17 people had been killed. That toll could not be independently confirmed.

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There was no official comment yet from Syria on the air strikes conducted by the US against facilities belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed.

The strikes, which were first reported by Reuters, appeared to be limited in scope, potentially lowering the risk of escalation.

Biden’s decision to strike only in Syria and not in Iraq, at least for now, also gives the Iraqi government some breathing room as it carries out its own investigation of a Feb. 15 attack that wounded Americans.

Smoke rises over the Erbil, after reports of mortar shells landing near Erbil airport, Iraq February 15, 2021. (Reuters)
Smoke rises over the Erbil, after reports of mortar shells landing near Erbil airport, Iraq February 15, 2021. (Reuters)

“At President (Joe) Biden’s direction, US military forces earlier this evening conducted airstrikes against infrastructure utilized by Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

“President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” Kirby said.

He added that the strikes destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).

A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the decision to carry out these strikes was meant to send a signal that while the United States wanted to punish the militias, it did not want the situation to spiral into a bigger conflict.

US President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 19, 2021. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 19, 2021. (AFP)

The official added that Biden was presented with a range of options and one of the most limited responses was chosen.

It was not immediately clear what damage was caused and if there were any casualties from the US strike.

Retaliatory US military strikes have occurred a number of times in the past few years.

The rocket attacks on US positions in Iraq were carried out as Washington and Tehran are looking for a way to return to the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by former US President Donald Trump.

It was not clear how, or whether, the strike might affect US efforts to coax Iran back into a negotiation about both sides resuming compliance with the agreement.

Since late 2019, the United States carried out high-profile strikes against the Kata’ib Hezbollah militia group in Iraq and Syria in response to sometimes deadly rocket attacks against US-led forces.

Under the Trump administration, the escalator back-and-forth stoked tensions, culminating in the US killing of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory Iranian ballistic missile attack against US forces in Iraq last year.

Read more:

Biden orders US strikes on Iran-backed militia in Syria: Pentagon

Rockets target US Embassy in Iraq, no casualties reported: Security sources

Iraqi dies of wounds sustained in Erbil rocket attack: Health ministry