Air strikes rock southern Iraq as US retaliates for rocket attack

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US President Donald Trump authorises military to respond to Wednesday’s attack on US troops

The Pentagon on Thursday confirmed that the US had struck five Iran-backed militia weapons stores in Iraq, a day after a rocket attack killed two American personnel and a British soldier.

“The United States conducted defensive precision strikes against Kataib Hezbollah facilities across Iraq,” the Pentagon said.

The strikes were “defensive, proportional and in direct response to the threat posed by Iranian-backed militia groups”, it said.

The Pentagon on Thursday said US President Donald Trump had authorised the military to respond to Wednesday’s attack, blaming Iran-backed militia.

Defence Secretary Mark Esper and Army Gen Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not identify a militia but made it clear that they believe Iran backed the fighters who carried out the attack.

They warned that all options were on the table, suggesting the US, Iran and the forces Tehran backs were again on a path towards confrontation inside of Iraq.

“I have spoken with the president,” Mr Esper said at the Pentagon.

“He’s given me the authority to do what we need to do, consistent with his guidance.”

The US has repeatedly and publicly warned that killing Americans overseas was a red line that would lead to a response.

“We’ve got to hold the perpetrators accountable,” Mr Esper said. “You don’t get to shoot at our bases and kill and wound Americans and get away with it.”

Washington blamed Kataib Hezbollah for a strike in Iraq in December that killed a US contractor.

Retaliatory attacks led to the US killing top Iranian general Qassem Suleimani, and an answering Iranian missile attack that left more than 100 US troops with brain injuries.

In Wednesday’s attack, about 14 US-led coalition personnel were wounded, including Americans, Britons, Poles and others. Private industry contractors were among the wounded.

Gen Milley said five of the wounded were “urgent”, suggesting serious injuries.

Britain identified its fallen service member as Lance Cpl Brodie Gillon, 26, who was with the Irish Guards Battle Group.

The US has not yet identified its killed service members.

Earlier on Thursday, US Marine Gen Kenneth McKenzie, head of Central Command, said only Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah had been known to launch such an attack in the past.

“While we are still investigating the attack, I will note that the Iranian proxy group Kataib Hezbollah is the only group known to have previously conducted an indirect fire attack of this scale against US and coalition forces in Iraq,” Gen McKenzie told a US Senate hearing.

The US-led military coalition in Iraq says 18 107-millimetre Katyusha rockets struck Iraq’s Taji military camp.

The Democratic-led US House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday to limit Mr Trump’s ability to wage war against Iran.

The Republican president has been engaged in a maximum-pressure campaign of sanctions against Iran, after pulling the US out of the international nuclear deal signed by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

Tension between Washington and Tehran has mostly played out on Iraqi soil in recent months.

Iran-backed paramilitary groups have been regularly rocketing and shelling bases in Iraq that host US forces, and the area around the US embassy in Baghdad.

Source: The National, UAE

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