Open Editor's Digest for free
FT editor Roula Khalaf picks her favorite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The United States launched a wave of strikes against Iran-linked forces in Iraq and Syria on Friday, hitting targets that included facilities used by Tehran's elite Revolutionary Guards in retaliation for a drone strike that killed three American troops.
The US military said 85 targets were struck at seven separate facilities, including those linked to the Guardsmen's Quds Force and Iranian-backed militias in the region. It was the first time U.S. President Joe Biden had spoken out in response to last month's drone strike on a base on the Jordan-Syria border that killed three U.S. soldiers.
“Our response began today,” Biden said after the strikes were carried out. “It will continue at times and places of our choosing.”
On Saturday, Iran's foreign ministry condemned the attacks as a violation of international law and said the US was engaging in “another adventurous and strategic error”.
The Iraqi government also condemned the attacks, which it said killed 16 people, including civilians.
“This aggressive strike will put the security of Iraq and the region on the brink of an abyss,” the Iraqi prime minister's office said on Saturday.
The Syrian military said the strikes killed “several civilians and military martyrs” but did not provide details.
The airstrikes, including four bases in Iraq and three in Syria, are the first time the US has directly targeted the Quds Force in its campaign in the region. The strikes will heighten fears that Washington is being drawn deeper into the wider regional conflict fueled by the Israel-Hamas war.
US officials said Friday's strikes were the first in a phased response.
“These responses started tonight and they're not going to end tonight,” said John Kirby, a spokesman for the US National Security Council. “There will be additional action that we will take – all designed to put an end to these attacks.”
While Biden has repeatedly said he doesn't want a full-scale war, he signaled on Friday that the United States would continue to strike if Iranian-aligned militias attacked American targets.
“America is not seeking conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world,” he said. “But let everyone who seeks to harm us know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”
The Revolutionary Guards are an elite Iranian military force that protects the regime in Tehran and is separate from the country's regular army. Its Quds Force is responsible for overseas operations and trains and arms regional militias.
The US used long-range B1 bombers and other aircraft in the strikes, senior US officials said. The bombers flew out of the United States in “one nonstop flight,” said Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of operations for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
More than 125 precision munitions were fired and hit facilities including command and control and intelligence centers; rocket, missile and drone storage sites; and logistics centers, Centcom said.
“We conducted these strikes tonight with the understanding that there may be casualties associated with the people inside those facilities,” Sims said.
Initially, Biden showed restraint in the face of repeated attacks by Iran-backed militias on US military personnel in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. But in recent weeks, as those attacks escalated, the White House reshuffled. Last month, the US launched missile strikes against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen after they attacked a merchant ship in the Red Sea.
Iranian officials have said they do not want direct conflict with the US and Israel or a regional war, and that the militant groups it supports operate independently. “We are not seeking war, but we are not afraid of it,” the commander of the Guards, Major General Hossein Salami, said this week.
A drone strike on its base on the Jordan-Syria border last Sunday, which injured 41 US service members, has been blamed by Washington on Islamist insurgency in Iraq. It's a shadowy umbrella group that includes fighters from the Iraqi Shiite militia, al-Muttab Hezbollah, and other fighters that have been responsible for more than 160 attacks against U.S. troops since mid-October after Israel's launch. Hamas war.
The IRI is part of Iran's so-called axis of resistance, which includes Iranian-backed militias such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have carried out attacks against Israel since the war with Hamas began.
Biden has come under pressure from some Republicans to attack Iran in response to last week's attacks, following months of attacks by Houthi rebels on merchant ships in the Red Sea, a vital shipping lane for global trade.
The president's decision to strike came after several meetings with his national security team in recent days to determine an appropriate response.
Additional reporting by Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran