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U.S. Conducts Retaliatory Air Strikes Against Iran-Backed Militia In Iraq


A photo from 2014 shows members of the Iraqi Shi'ite Kataib Hezbollah militia.

The United States is conducting retaliatory air strikes against an Iran-backed militia group operating in Iraq following a deadly attack a day earlier against a base hosting Western forces near Baghdad, the Pentagon says.

The U.S. military said in a statement late on March 12 that “precision strikes” were being carried out against sites of the Shi’ite Kataib Hezbollah militia “across Iraq."

"These weapons-storage facilities include facilities that housed weapons used to target U.S. and coalition troops," the statement said.

It added that the strikes were "defensive, proportional, and in direct response to the threat posed by Iranian-backed Shia militia groups."

One U.S. official told AP that the strikes were a joint U.S.-British operation and that they were still ongoing when he spoke.

U.S. Defense Secretary Mike Esper earlier blamed Iran-backed Shi'ite militia groups for a March 11 attack on the coalition at the Camp Taji military base, located less than 30 kilometers north of Baghdad.

He had said that "all options are on the table" as Washington and its allies try to bring to justice those responsible for the attack, which killed two U.S. troops and one British soldier and wounded a dozen others when a barrage of Katyusha rockets were launched from a truck later discovered several kilometers from Camp Taji.

No one claimed responsibility for the rocket attack, but the United States has accused Iran-backed militias of previous attacks on Iraqi bases hosting coalition forces.

Washington blamed the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia for a strike in December that killed a U.S. contractor and triggered a round of violence that led U.S. President Donald Trump to order the killing of a top Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, in a drone strike in Baghdad the following month.

In retaliation, an Iranian ballistic missile strike on an Iraqi air base left some 110 U.S. troops suffering from traumatic brain injuries.

Following confirmation of the March 12 air strikes, Esper said in a statement that the United States would not tolerate attacks against “our people, our interests, or our allies.”

The latest action came hours after the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said air strikes in eastern Syria killed 26 fighters from an Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary group near the Syrian border town of Albu Kamal and that they were probably carried out by the U.S.-led coalition.

U.S. officials did not confirm if their forces were involved in the Syria attack.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

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