“rockets struck Ayn al-Asad air base, a military facility in Iraq that hosts American troops. U.S. Army Colonel Wayne Marotto, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, tweeted that the attack did not result in casualties. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the action.
Even without human loss, Monday’s hostilities highlight the risks associated with a continued U.S. troop presence and ongoing military engagement in the Middle East. The attack came just one week after President Joe Biden’s June 27 airstrikes on facilities used by Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria, which prompted rocket attacks against U.S. troops in Syria the very next day. There have been many tit-for-tat exchanges between the U.S. and Iran-linked parties since former President Donald Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in January 2020. Though it’s unclear who ordered the Monday attack, it is clear that U.S. strikes and troops have failed to deter further antagonism from hostile parties in the region.
While Biden has made the Afghanistan troop withdrawal a centerpiece of his presidential agenda, his plans for the U.S. presence in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East are far vaguer. Following the Soleimani assassination on Iraqi soil, the Iraqi Parliament passed a resolution to expel U.S. troops from the country. No timetable for that withdrawal has emerged during bilateral negotiations, however, leaving the fate of the roughly 3,500 remaining U.S. troops in Iraq unsettled. Roughly 900 are still in Syria and their future is similarly murky.”
“The attacks and retaliatory strike marked the first major military action of the Biden administration. The strike was calculated to signal to Iran that such attacks through proxies in the region would not be tolerated, the officials said, while avoiding escalation into a wider conflict as Biden seeks a diplomatic breakthrough with Tehran on the Iran nuclear deal.
The “proportionate” military response was conducted along with diplomatic measures, including consulting with coalition partners, the Pentagon said.
“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” said Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby. “At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both Eastern Syria and Iraq.””
“”The targets were chosen to correspond to the recent attacks — the facilities are utilized by KSS and KH — and to deter the risk of additional attacks over the coming weeks,” the spokesperson said. “The strikes were necessary to address the threat and proportionate to the prior attacks.”
At around 6 p.m. EST on Thursday night, U.S. fighter jets dropped seven 500-pound precision bombs on seven targets in eastern Syria, the official said. All bombs hit their targets, a crossing used by several Iran-backed militia groups to move weapons and other goods across the border. Initial reports suggest there were no casualties, militant or civilian.
Biden made the strategic decision to conduct the strike in Syria, rather than on Iraqi soil, in order to avoid pressure on the Iraqi government, the official said.
Conducting an airstrike in Syria is also less politically complicated for the Biden administration than an operation in Iraq, said Becca Wasser, an analyst with the RAND Corp. The U.S. does not need to request the permission of the Syrian government as it does not recognize Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, she said.
The airstrike came after Biden spoke Tuesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. The White House readout of the call hinted at the coming action. The men “discussed the recent rocket attacks against Iraqi and Coalition personnel and agreed that those responsible for such attacks must be held fully to account.””
“The announcement of the targeted airstrikes followed heavy clashes during the weekend that brought the Taliban to the outskirts of the Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah. The Taliban also have been blamed for a rash of fighting around the country.
Despite the escalating violence, the U.S. is on course to fulfill a key commitment it made under the deal with the Taliban — to withdraw all foreign forces by May next year.”
“Military officials have said the Taliban have not held to verbal agreements with the U.S. to reduce violence against Afghan forces.
The Taliban also have fallen short of meeting conditions in the February deal, including that they would sever ties with terrorist groups like al-Qaida — the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. — and would start talks in March with the Afghan government.
The intra-Afghan talks only got underway in September and are expected to take months, if not years.”
“The administration of President Donald Trump promised to “restore deterrence” against Iran when it assassinated Iranian spymaster Gen. Qassem Soleimani outside Baghdad International Airport on January 3. But months later, the Iraqi militias formerly armed, trained, and advised by Soleimani seem undeterred, and American troops in Iraq find themselves in an escalating cycle of conflict with no end in sight.
In March, militia forces fired a barrage of Katyusha rockets at Camp Taji, killing a U.S. Army soldier, a U.S. Air Force airman, and a British servicewoman. A local militia close to Iranian intelligence services called Kata’ib Hezbollah appeared to take credit for the attack in a social media diatribe invoking the “right to resist” America’s “malicious project of occupation.”
American forces responded with what the Pentagon calls “precision defensive strikes” against five Kata’ib Hezbollah weapons depots. Iraq accused the U.S. military of killing Iraqi soldiers and civilians instead of Kata’ib Hezbollah members during the raids, aggravating already strained U.S.-Iraqi tensions. The following weekend, Katyusha rockets slammed into Camp Taji again in broad daylight.”
“in order for this strike to be legal without congressional authorization, it would have to be in response to an imminent threat to the United States. And then we immediately enter into a discussion about what “imminent” and “threat” actually mean.”
“Many of the people who have shaped our legal understanding of “imminent” over the years understood it to mean that the threat was unfolding right now and there’s no time to do anything other than to kill the person.
The Soleimani killing doesn’t appear to meet that threshold.”
“If this is just a thing we did, then Congress doesn’t need to be notified. But if it’s an act of war, then clearly Congress needs to be notified.”
“for better or worse, at a point where the majority of lawmakers have basically acquiesced to the administration’s interpretation of the law when it comes to war, and again, this goes back to the George W. Bush era. So if that’s the case, then eventually the law becomes whatever the current administration says it is. That’s where we are.”
“there were several AUMFs but none of them, in any way, were directed at Iran. Each of them very clearly gave the executive branch the power to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and later, ISIS in Iraq. And in fact, Iran has been on our side in the fight against ISIS and the Taliban. So there’s just no plausible legal justification under which you could stretch any of the AUMFs to include an attack on an Iranian official.”