President Joe Biden on Thursday directed U.S. military air strikes in eastern Syria against facilities belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militia, in a calibrated response to rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.
The strikes, which were first reported by Reuters, appeared to be limited in scope, potentially lowering the risk of escalation.
“At President (Joe) Biden’s direction, U.S. 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.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision to carry out the 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.
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 U.S. strike.
Representative Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the strikes were the right move.
“Responses like this are a necessary deterrent and remind Iran, its proxies, and our adversaries around the world that attacks on U.S. interests will not be tolerated,” McCaul said.
Suzanne Maloney, of the Brookings Institution think tank, said the strikes showed the Biden administration could negotiate with Iran on the nuclear deal while pushing back against the militias it backed.
“Good move by... Biden (administration) demonstrating US can walk and chew gum at the same time,” she said on Twitter.