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Updated January 24th, 2024 at 06:23 IST

US Unleashes Airstrikes Against Iran-Backed Militias in Iraq, Austin Calls the Attack 'Necessary'

Amid the brewing tensions in the Middle East, the United States unleashed lethal airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias operating in Iraq on Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies before a Senate Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington,
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin | Image:AP
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Baghdad - Amid the brewing tensions in the Middle East, the United States unleashed lethal airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias operating in Iraq on Tuesday (local time). In his first public statement after the secret hospitalisation, the US Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin, confirmed the attack and insisted that the strikes were conducted in response to the repeated attacks against the US forces stationed in the Middle Eastern nation. According to CNN, the strikes targeted three facilities used by Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah and other Tehran-affiliated groups operating in Iraq. The attacks came a day after the United States and the United Kingdom conducted joint strikes on multiple Houthi targets in Yemen. The involvement of the West in the region has started raising fears of a war spillover in the Middle East. 

"Today, at President Biden's direction, U.S. military forces conducted necessary and proportionate strikes on three facilities used by the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group and other Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq," Austin said in a statement on Tuesday. “These precision strikes are in direct response to a series of escalators attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias,” he furthered. According to a military update by the US Central Command (CENTCOM), the strikes targeted KH headquarters, storage and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities. “In response to attacks by the Iranian-backed militia group Kataib Hezbollah (KH), including the attack on al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq on Jan. 20, on Jan. 24 at 12:15 a.m. (Iraq time), U.S. CENTCOM forces conducted unilateral airstrikes against three facilities used by the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group and other Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq. These strikes targeted KH headquarters, storage, and training locations for rocket, missile, and one-way attack UAV capabilities,” CENTCOM wrote on X, formally known as Twitter. 

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‘The President and I will not hesitate to take the action’: Austin 

In his statement, Austin went on to laud the valour of the US defence personnel and insisted that he and US President Joe Biden would “not hesitate” to take action to defend the country's interest. “I am grateful for both the skill and professionalism with which our personnel planned and conducted these strikes and the continued efforts of our troops on the ground as they work with regional partners to further dismantle and degrade ISIS,” the US Defence Secretary said in Tuesday’s statement. “The President and I will not hesitate to take necessary action to defend them and our interests. We do not seek to escalate the conflict in the region. We are fully prepared to take further measures to protect our people and our facilities. We call on these groups and their Iranian sponsors to immediately cease these attacks,” he added. According to a US defence official, the strikes were carried out in two sites in Western Iraq. These sites included the Al-Qa’im region, near the Syrian border, as well as Jurf al-Sakhar south of Baghdad, CNN reported. 

It is important to note that these strikes came just days after US personnel at Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq were injured after a ballistic missile and rocket attack on the base. The initial investigation then revealed that a militant group named Kataib Hezbollah was responsible for the attack. 

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Shortly after the incident, Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said that a total of four US troops were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury as a result of the attack, and all had since returned to duty. According to CNN, US forces in Iraq and Syria have been attacked 151 times since the October 7 massacre which eventually led to the commencement of the Israel-Hamas war. 

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Published January 24th, 2024 at 06:23 IST

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