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US Forces Strike Iran-Backed Group After Ballistic Missile Attack

Coalition service members conduct a close-quarters live-fire exercise at al-Asad Air Base, Iraq, Oct. 30, 2023.
Coalition service members conduct a close-quarters live-fire exercise at al-Asad Air Base, Iraq, Oct. 30, 2023.

U.S. forces have carried out two series of strikes against Iran-backed forces and their facilities in Iraq since Monday, according to U.S. Central Command.

In a statement, the command said that U.S. fighter aircraft launched "precision strikes against two facilities in Iraq” during the early hours of Wednesday local time, which were “in direct response to attacks against U.S. and coalition forces by Iran and Iran-backed groups.”

The U.S. strikes targeted an operations center and a command and control node used by the Iran-backed militant group Kataib Hezbollah near Al Anbar and Jurf al-Saqr, a defense official told VOA.

Kataib Hezbollah forces were present at the two facilities, which the defense official said had supported recent attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria. Early assessments point to at least six militants killed in the two strikes, the defense official added.

On Monday, U.S. forces struck and killed Iran-backed proxies who earlier had launched a close-range ballistic missile against al-Asad Air Base in Iraq.

It was the first time a ballistic missile had been launched against U.S. forces in the Middle East since a surge in attacks began Oct. 17, and the first time U.S. forces have retaliated with a strike in Iraq.

Monday’s Iran-backed attack marks an escalation from previous attacks over the past month, as ballistic missiles can be more powerful and carry more destructive payloads than the rockets and drones used in previous incidents.

U.S. Central Command said the ballistic missile attack caused injuries to eight U.S. personnel and minor damage to infrastructure.

The Pentagon said U.S. forces were able to locate an Iran-backed militia vehicle and a number of personnel involved in the attack. An AC-130 gunship crew then conducted a “self-defense strike” in retaliation, killing three enemy fighters.

Iran-backed proxies have attacked U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria at least 150 times since President Joe Biden took office, two U.S. defense officials told VOA. More than 60 rocket and drone attacks against U.S. forces have occurred since Oct. 17.

Most of those attacks were disrupted by the U.S. military or failed to reach their targets, causing no casualties or damage to infrastructure, according to the military.

But a handful of attacks have injured dozens of U.S. military personnel. They range from traumatic brain injuries to perforated eardrums to minor injuries caused by shrapnel. Officials say those injured have since returned to duty.

One U.S. contractor at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq suffered a cardiac episode and died while sheltering in place during a false alarm for an air attack.

In addition to the AC-130 strike in Iraq, U.S. fighter jets have conducted three rounds of strikes targeting four facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and their proxy groups in Syria.

The Middle East has been a tinderbox since Iran-backed Hamas launched a terrorist attack on Israel on Oct. 7, killing at least 1,200 people while taking about 240 people hostage. Israel’s retaliatory strikes and ground offensive have caused thousands of deaths.

The United States has increased its presence in the region to protect its roughly 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria and to deter malign actors, including Iran, the Houthis, Hezbollah and other Iran-backed proxy militias, from expanding the Israel-Hamas conflict.

A spate of attacks from Iran-backed militants in March killed a U.S. contractor in Syria, caused traumatic brain injuries in 23 military personnel and wounded 25 U.S. military personnel, according to the Pentagon.

The Pentagon responded with airstrikes against Iran-backed facilities in Syria, much like the strikes carried out by U.S. forces in recent weeks.

The last time Iran or Iran-backed proxies used ballistic missiles against U.S. forces in Iraq was in 2020 following a U.S. attack in Iraq that killed Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.