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U.S. airstrike in Syria on Iranian-backed militia killed one fighter, wounded two, Pentagon says

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in London, had said the U.S. raid killed at least 22 fighters.
Image: An Iraq-Syria border crossing and destroyed buildings after airstrikes seen on a Feb. 26, 2021 satellite image.
An Iraq-Syria border crossing and destroyed buildings after airstrikes in a satellite image Friday.Maxar Technologies / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Monday that a U.S. airstrike last week in eastern Syria killed one fighter in an Iranian-backed militia and wounded two others.

"What I can tell you is that we believe right now there was likely one militia member killed, and two militia members wounded," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters.

The Biden administration had earlier said it was unclear what the casualty toll was from the bombing raid, which was carried out in retaliation for a deadly rocket attack on a U.S.-led coalition base in northern Iraq as well as two other rocket attacks.

Two U.S. F-15 fighter jets dropped seven precision-guided bombs last Thursday on what the Pentagon said was a logistics hub for the Iranian-backed militias near Syria's border with Iraq. The Pentagon blamed the militias for the recent rocket attacks.

The U.S. military will continue to assess the effects of the airstrikes carried out last Thursday, he said.

Kirby offered no other new information on the airstrikes. Last week the Pentagon said the bombing destroyed nine buildings and partially destroyed two others at the way station for the paramilitary groups.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in London, had said the U.S. raid had killed at least 22 fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi umbrella group of mostly Shia paramilitaries. The group cited sources in Syria.

Kataib Hezbollah, one of the main Iranian-backed paramilitary groups in Iraq, said earlier that one of its fighters had been killed in the U.S. airstrikes.

The operation was the first known use of military force by the Biden administration, which had stressed after entering office that it planned to focus more on challenges posed by China.

The airstrikes threatened to complicate a possible diplomatic opening between the United States and Iran, as Washington had said days earlier it was ready to accept an invitation from the European Union to sit down with Iran and other world powers to discuss Tehran's nuclear program.

But Iran on Sunday rejected the offer from the EU for direct talks with the United States. Iranian officials say Washington first needs to provide relief from punishing U.S. sanctions.

"Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries, which was proposed by the EU foreign policy chief," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said, according to Tehran's state-run media.

A senior Biden administration official said Iran's response was disappointing and that the United States remained ready to engage in "meaningful diplomacy."

President Joe Biden has said he is ready to bring the United States back into the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers if Tehran returns to compliance with restrictions on its uranium enrichment and other nuclear work. The deal, known as the JCPOA, lifted some sanctions on Iran in return for limits on its nuclear program designed to prevent it from building nuclear weapons.