According to the Pentagon, the U.S. launched retaliatory strikes targeting an Iranian-backed group that believed responsible for the rocket attack that killed and wounded American and British troops at a base north of Baghdad.
Details are still limited, but the U.S. military is conducting airstrikes in Iraq. The Pentagon said it struck five Kataib Hezbollah weapons facilities inside Iraq to “significantly degrade their ability to conduct future attacks against Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces.”
The storage facilities targeted in the strikes stored weapons used to target U.S. and coalition troops, according to the Pentagon. The Defense Department said Thursday’s “defensive” strikes were “proportional” and a “direct response” to the threat of Iran-backed groups operating in Iraq.
— Steven Nabil (@thestevennabil) March 12, 2020
The strikes were a partnered operation with the British, a U.S. official said. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because operations were still going on.
“I have spoken with the president,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said during a press conference earlier on Mar. 12, 2020. “He’s given me the authority to do what we need to do, consistent with his guidance.”
“Let me be clear: The United States will not tolerate attacks against our people, our interests or our allies,” he added. “All options are on the table.”
In a separate press conference, U.S. Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, had declined to say conclusively that Iran or its regional proxies had carried out the attack but said that no other groups in Iraq had the means to do so. President Donald Trump had also said earlier in the day that “it has not been fully determined” who was responsible.
The strikes could lead to a new spike in tensions between the United States and Iran, as well as Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, after something of a lull following unprecedented Iranian ballistic missile strikes against American personnel in Iraq on Jan. 7. That was the culmination of a series of events that started with another deadly rocket attack aimed at U.S. personnel at K-1 base near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, which killed an American contractor, in December 2019.
The U.S. military had quickly responded with airstrikes on Iranian-backed groups in Iraq and neighboring Syria, which then prompted members of those militias and their supporters to try to storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The Trump Administration then killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani outside Baghdad International Airport. Iran’s ballistic missile strikes were in direct response to that targeted strike.
Despite continued rocket attacks aimed at various bases the U.S. personnel use in Iraq, including Taji, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the situation had calmed to the point that just recently the Trump Administration had recently decided to begin withdrawing some of the reinforcements it had rushed to the region in January.
We will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.