The US is carrying out retaliatory strikes in Iraq in response to a rocket attack that killed two US troops and a British service member at a base north of Baghdad, according to US officials.
The two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, did not provide details on the targets being struck or name the groups being targeted.
But the Pentagon earlier on Thursday directly blamed Iran-backed militia for Wednesday’s attack, which also wounded 14 people.
Iraq – Video from Jurf al-Sakhar town south of Baghdad where Iran militias are being targeted . U.S war jets could be heard pic.twitter.com/NyYlslAQIk
— Zaid Sabah (@ZaidSabah) March 12, 2020
One of the officials said the US response would be proportional to that Wednesday rocket attack.
The strikes marked a rapid escalation in tensions with Tehran and its proxy groups in Iraq, just two months after Iran carried out a massive ballistic missile attack against American troops at a base in Iraq.
They came just hours after top US defence leaders threatened retaliation for the Wednesday rocket attack, making clear that they knew who did it and that the attackers would be held accountable.
Two US troops and one British service member were killed and 14 other personnel were wounded when 18 rockets hit the base on Wednesday. The US military said the 107mm Katyusha rockets were fired from a truck launcher that was found by Iraqi security forces near the base after the attack.
Defence Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon earlier on Thursday that President Donald Trump had given him the authority to take whatever action he deemed necessary.
“We’re going to take this one step at a time, but 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.”
At the White House, Trump had also hinted that a US counterpunch could be coming, telling reporters, “We’ll see what the response is.” And Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters the US knows “with a high degree of certainty” who launched the attack.
On Capitol Hill earlier in the day, Marine General Frank McKenzie, the top US commander for the Middle East, told senators the deaths of US and coalition troops created a “red line” for the US, but said he didn’t think Iran has “a good understanding of where our red line is.”
Asked if any counterattack could include a strike inside Iran, Mr Esper said, “We are focused on the group that we believe perpetrated this in Iraq.”
Kataib Hezbollah was responsible for a late December rocket attack on a military base in Kirkuk that killed a US contractor, prompting American military strikes in response.
They were followed January 3 by a US airstrike that killed Iran’s most powerful military officer, General Qassem Soleimani.
In response to the Soleimani killing, Iran launched a massive ballistic missile attack on January 8, at al-Asad air base in Iraq, that resulted in traumatic brain injuries to more than 100 American troops.