The U.S. military carried out what a Pentagon official called “defensive” airstrikes in Iraq and Syria on Sunday against Iran-backed militia groups that were behind drone attacks on American personnel.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement that the airstrikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one in Iraq. The facilities were used by at least two militias, Kata'ib Hezbollah and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, he said.
The 14th brigade of the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group for a number of Iran-backed militias in Iraq, said four of its fighters were killed in the attack. The brigade is made up of Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada members.
Jessica McNulty, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said each strike hit its intended target. But the operation's effect remained unclear.
There have been five drone attacks since April, she said. She added that rocket strikes are "ongoing."
Kirby said that President Joe Biden, who authorized the strikes, “directed further military action to disrupt and deter” attacks on U.S. facilities and personnel in Iraq.
“We are in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq for the sole purpose of assisting the Iraqi Security Forces in their efforts to defeat ISIS,” he said. “The United States took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation - but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message.”
The Syrian state news agency, SANA, reported that a child and three other civilians were injured, but that has not been independently confirmed by NBC News.
Iraq's military released a rare statement condemning the attacks Monday morning.
"We condemn the U.S. air attack that targeted a site on the Iraqi-Syrian border last night, which represents a blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and national security in accordance with all international conventions," a spokesperson for the commander in chief of Iraq's armed forces said.
"Iraq renews its refusal to be an arena for settling accounts, and clings to its right to sovereignty over its lands, and prevents it from being used as an arena for reactions and attacks."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the United States was "taking the wrong path" in the region and was continuing the "failed legacy" of the previous administration.
"Instead of emotional actions and creating tensions and problems in the region, the U.S. should change its behavior and let the regional people establish security without Washington’s interference," he said during a weekly news conference.
The airstrikes come as the Biden administration considers lifting sanctions on Iran in an effort to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, which was negotiated under the Obama administration and sought to blunt Tehran's uranium enrichment capacity.
Former President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal three years ago, arguing it was slanted toward Iran. His administration also imposed damaging sanctions on the country.
U.S. forces carried out airstrikes earlier this year against the same Iran-backed militias that the Pentagon said were behind a rocket attack in northern Iraq. The rocket attack killed a Filipino contractor working with an American-led military coalition and injured six people, including a Louisiana National Guard soldier and four American contractors.