Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that the U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria targeted an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia blamed for a rocket attack that killed an American contractor. Many believe US strikes against Iranian terror proxies are long overdue.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the strikes send the message that the U.S. will not tolerate Iranian terror. One that jeopardize American lives.
HEZBOLLAH OF IRAQ. SAME TERROR. SAME VIOLENCE.
Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement earlier Sunday that the U.S. conducted “Precision Defensive Strikes” against five sites of Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades. The terror organization emulates the Lebanese Hezbollah tactics and violence.
The U.S. blames the militia for a rocket barrage Friday that killed a U.S. defense contractor at a military compound near Kirkuk. Officials said Kataeb Hezbollah fired as many as 30 rockets in Friday’s assault.
Esper said the U.S. hit three of the militia’s sites in western Iraq and two in eastern Syria. The strikes targeted weapon depots and the militia’s command and control bases.
U.S. Air Force F-15 Strike Eagles carried out the strikes and all the aircraft safely returned to their home base. Witnesses could observe major secondary explosions following the strikes on the weapon depots.
Pompeo, Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flew to Palm Beach, Florida, after the operation to brief President Donald Trump.
Esper said they discussed with Trump “other options that are available” to respond to Iran.
Esper, accompanied by Pompeo and Milley, said in a brief statement to reporters:
I would note also that we will take additional actions as necessary to ensure that we act in our own self-defense and we deter further bad behavior from militia groups or from Iran.
The national security officials did not answer any questions.
US STRIKES AGAINST IRANIAN TERROR PROXIES IS LONG OVERDUE
Pompeo said the “decisive response” makes clear that the U.S. ”will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy.”
Iran may yet exact an act of revenge against Iraqi politicans who have close ties to the U.S.
Trump was at Mar-a-Lago but did not appear with his top national security officials.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement that three U.S. airstrikes on Sunday evening Iraq time hit the headquarters of the Hezbollah Brigades at the Iraq-Syria border, killing four fighters. Considering Iranian history of propaganda, multiply that number by five.
Iraq’s Hezbollah Brigades operate under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Many of them Iran support, which facilitates Iranian control of Iraq.
The Popular Mobilization Forces said Sunday that the U.S. strikes killed at least 19 of Kataeb Hezbollah’s members.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, one of Iraq’s most powerful men due to Iranian backing, leads Kataeb Hezbollah. He once battled U.S. troops and is now the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces.
In 2009, the State Department linked him to the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. The U.S. considers the Quds Force a foreign terrorist organization. President Donald Trump ordered the designation earlier this year.
IRAN MAY EXACT A PRICE ON IRAQI POLITICIANS
The U.S. maintains some 5,000 troops in Iraq. They are there based on an invitation by the Iraqi government to assist and train in the fight against the Islamic State group. Iran may yet exact an act of revenge against Iraqi politicans who have close ties to the U.S.
The militia strike and U.S. counter-strike come as months of political turmoil roil Iraq. About 500 people have died in anti-government protests in recent months. Most of them demonstrators killed by Iraqi security forces.
The mass uprisings prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi late last month. Abdul-Mahdi remains for now in a caretaker capacity.
Abdul-Mahdi had made no public comment on Friday’s militia attack but condemned the U.S. retaliatory strike on Sunday. He called it a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a “dangerous escalation that threatens the security of Iraq and the region.”
In a statement, Abdul-Mahdi said Defense Secretary Mark Esper had called him about a half-hour before the U.S. strikes to tell him of U.S. intentions to hit bases of the militia suspected of being behind Friday’s rocket attack. Abdul-Mahdi said in the statement he asked Esper to call off U.S. retaliation plans.
The statement said Iraqi President Barham Salih also received advance notice from a U.S. diplomat, and also asked unsuccessfully for Americans to call off it off.