The United States has launched its first airstrikes in nearly a decade against the Iran-backed militia forces in Iraq and Syria.
The Pentagon said it hit five bases used by the Iraqi Hizbollah militant group following a rocket attack in Iraq that killed a US civilian contractor.
Three of the bases were in Iraq, and two in Syria, where the militia has been trying to bolster the regime of President Assad.
“US forces have conducted precision defensive strikes against five KH facilities in Iraq and Syria that will degrade KH’s ability to conduct future attacks against OIR coalition forces,” the Pentagon said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the strikes send the message that the US will not tolerate actions by Iran that jeopardise American lives.
The strike is the first direct confrontation between US and Iranian-backed forces in Iraq since 2011, when President Obama withdrew some of his forces.
“I would note also that we will take additional actions as necessary to ensure that we act in our own self-defence and we deter further bad behavior from militia groups or from Iran,” said Defence Secretary Mark Esper, who was accompanied by Mr Pompeo and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The delivered the brief statement to reporters in a ballroom at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, where the president is on a more than two-week winter break.
According to the Al Arabiya news network, the US evacuated dozens of staff from its embassy in Baghdad on Sunday night amid concerns of retaliation.
The targets of the US bombs included weapons storage facilities and command locations used to plan and execute attacks, the statement added.
On Friday, terrorists fired a barrage of 30 rockets at an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk, an oil-rich region north of Baghdad. A US civilian contractor died in the strike.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement that three U.S. airstrikes on Sunday evening Iraq time hit the headquarters of the Hezbollah Brigades at the Iraq-Syria border, killing four fighters.
Iraq’s Hezbollah Brigades, a separate force from the Lebanese group Hezbollah, operate under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces. Many of them are supported by Iran.
The Popular Mobilization Forces said Sunday that the U.S. strikes killed at least 19 of Kataeb Hezbollah’s members.
Kataeb Hezbollah is led by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, one of Iraq’s most powerful men. He once battled US troops and is now the deputy head of the Popular Mobilization Forces.
Washington had recently promised “a decisive US response” to a growing number of unclaimed attacks on its interests in Iraq, which it blames on pro-Iran factions.
US-Iran tension levels have soared since Washington pulled out of a landmark nuclear agreement with Tehran last year and imposed crippling sanctions.