WASHINGTON – The Pentagon on Monday released footage of U.S. retaliatory air strikes in Iraq and Syria against facilities used by Iran-backed militias, a move expected to shake fragile diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.
The Biden government said Sunday’s “precision defensive air strikes” targeted weapons caches in Syria and elsewhere in Iraq.
“The targets were chosen because these facilities are used by Iran-backed militias involved in unmanned aerial vehicle attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby wrote in an evening statement.
The Iraqi military, on rare occasions, condemned the US attacks as “a blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and national security”.
On Monday, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq confirmed that US forces in Syria had been attacked by multiple missiles, possibly in retaliation for US air strikes.
“There are no injuries and damage is assessed. We will provide updates when we have more information,” said US Army Col. Wayne Marotto in a statement.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the Biden administration had notified allies in the region and consulted with members of Congress ahead of the airstrikes.
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Sunday’s strikes marked the second time President Joe Biden ordered a US military reaction in the region against Iran-backed militias.
In February, the US launched air strikes against several facilities in Syria, used by a number of Iran-backed agents, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada. The US air strikes came a week after a missile strike in northern Iraq that killed a civilian contractor and injured nine others, including a US soldier.
In contrast to the February strike, however, the action on Sunday targeted the infrastructure in both Iraq and Syria.
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken described the attacks as a “necessary appropriate premeditated act” after speaking with representatives of the defeat ISIS coalition ministerial conference in Rome about the ongoing crisis in Syria.
“We have made it very clear, the President has made it very clear across the board that we will act to protect US personnel, and given these ongoing attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting our interests in Iraq, he has led further military actions, “said Blinken together with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.
“We have taken the necessary and conscious measures that limit the risk of escalation, but also send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” continues Blinken.
An official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said Blinken was “very involved in planning the operation” and the country’s top diplomat was aware that the strike would take place overnight if he went to bed on Sunday went.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L), âItalian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio (C) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) pose for a photo during the ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat DAESH on June 28 in Rome, Italy, 2021 .
Angelo Carconi | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Foreign policy experts said the recent air strikes raise questions about why the U.S. military still maintains a footprint in Iraq and Syria.
“We will always defend US troops stationed in war zones, but the widespread presence in Iraq and Syria risks escalating to a wider war with local militias – and even with Iran,” wrote Benjamin Friedman, Head of Defense Priority Policy.
“Militia groups, let alone hostile states, are getting better at precisely aiming missiles and using drones, and defensive measures are becoming more difficult – this shift is one of many reasons for radically reducing the presence of US forces in the Middle East,” he added added.
Thomas Karako, director of the missile defense project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also expressed concern about the growing threat from unmanned aircraft systems.
“They will darken the sky,” said Karako. “That’s why the Pentagon released a new strategy against small UAS in January. That is why there is such a large demand signal for active effectors of all kinds to defeat them – kinetic and non-kinetic alike. the demand signal is only going up, “he added.
Randa Slim, director of the Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues Program at the Middle East Institute, said that since March Iran-backed militias have carried out at least 10 explosive-laden drone strikes on US and coalition sites in Iraq.
“While pressure from congressional leaders has been built on the Biden administration to take revenge against drone strikes on US forces in Iraq, this attack raises the ghost of whether or not the US will be dragged into an escalation spiral with Iran in the Middle East Time for the government to reduce its military footprint in the region, “Slim wrote in an email to CNBC.
The strikes come as the Biden administration fulfills the Herculean task of withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan, reassessing its foreign policy interests in the Middle East, and working to revive a nuclear deal with Iran and the world powers.
“The Biden administration is trying not to encourage further attacks on American forces, but neither does it want to escalate the situation,” said Stephen Biddle, Adjunct Senior Fellow on Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University told CNBC.
“There are many ways to do more than the government decided, they chose not to. I think that suggests that they are trying to deal with this, “Biddle said, adding that escalating the JCPOA negotiations and dragging the US into another Middle East conflict.
“Like it or not, the general state of US-Iranian relations will affect the JCPOA negotiations,” added Biddle.
The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) brokered by the Obama administration lifted sanctions against Iran, which crippled its economy and roughly halved its oil exports. In exchange for billions of dollars in sanction relief, Iran agreed to dismantle part of its nuclear program and open its facilities to wider international inspections.
In addition to the USA, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia and China were also signatories to the agreement.
In 2018, then-President Donald Trump kept an election promise and unilaterally withdrew the United States from the JCPOA in what was dubbed the “worst deal ever”. Trump has also reintroduced the previously lifted sanctions against Tehran.
After Washington pulled out of the groundbreaking nuclear deal, other signatories to the pact “fought to keep the deal alive.
The Biden government is aiming for a return to the deal and recently concluded a sixth round of negotiations in Vienna.
On Thursday, a senior administration official told reporters, on condition of anonymity, that the US negotiating team had failed to reach an agreement and would start another round of talks, but did not provide any further details about the start of the seventh round.