The United States conducted a new round of airstrikes — the second in roughly a day — in Iraq early Wednesday, hitting facilities used by Iranian proxies that had been targeting American and coalition troops, U.S. defense officials said.
The latest rounds in the tit-for-tat attacks between the United States and Iranian-backed fighters took place in Iraq, in a departure from the United States’ practice of striking mostly targets in Syria.
This time, the United States struck facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah, a militia group in Iraq that is considered a proxy of Iran. Kataib Hezbollah’s political wing is part of the coalition of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani of Iraq.
The strikes came as the Biden administration has escalated its attacks recently. Barely more than 24 hours earlier, an American military gunship fired on and killed three Iran-backed militants on Monday night who the Pentagon said Tuesday were part of an attack on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. Unlike that exchange, which Pentagon officials said came at the spur of the moment after an American warplane in the area witnessed the ballistic missile attack on Al Asad Air Base and retaliated, the Wednesday morning strikes were planned, at least for a few hours.
In the earlier attack, a Pentagon spokeswoman said, the militants had moved to their vehicle after firing missiles at Al Asad Air Base, one of the last remaining Iraqi bases where U.S. forces are stationed. The gunship, an AC-130, spotted them from the air, she said.
“The militants were targeted because the AC-130 was able to determine the point of origin,” the spokeswoman, Sabrina Singh, said on Tuesday. “We had an aircraft that was able to identify where the close-range ballistic missile was being shot from, and therefore we were able to take action.”
The U.S. strikes followed others last week in eastern Syria against facilities used by Iran and its proxies. Officials said the American strikes last week killed at least six people and possibly seven. The Biden administration had previously conducted airstrikes that officials said were meant to deter Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the militias it supports in Syria and Iraq, but U.S. officials had said that before last week, they had caused no known casualties.
The administration blames Iran and the militias aligned with it, known as the Axis of Resistance, for what has become a daily barrage of rocket and drone attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.
The latest strike came almost two weeks after American warplanes hit a munitions warehouse in eastern Syria and then several buildings in the region that the Pentagon said were being used for training, logistics and storing munitions, as well as a safe house serving as a command headquarters. An earlier set of U.S. retaliatory strikes came on Oct. 27.
Until last week, President Biden had rejected more aggressive bombing options proposed by the Pentagon out of fear of provoking a wider conflict with Iran. But the U.S. strike on Monday was the second to cause fatalities. American officials say there have been 66 strikes by Iran-backed militias on American troops and bases since Oct. 17.