Baghdad/Washington (dpa) – The US military on Sunday said it had carried out “precision defensive strikes” in Iraq and Syria against an Iran-backed militia group blamed for an attack earlier this week that killed a US citizen.
The five targets included three locations of the Kataib Hezbollah (KH) militia group in Iraq and two in Syria, the Pentagon said in a statement.
The targets were all either command and control facilities or weapons caches for the milita group, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in comments in Florida on Sunday.
The strikes were “successful,” Esper said, adding that other options had also been discussed with US President Donald Trump on Sunday.
“And 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 behaviour from militia groups or from Iran,” Esper said.
Esper’s assistant Jonathan Hoffman said the strikes would degrade the group’s ability to attack US coalition forces involved in the military operation against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The Iraqi military said three US airstrikes on Sunday targeted sites of an Iraqi Shiite militia near the border with Syria, killing four of its fighters.
The strikes that hit the headquarters of the Brigade 45th in the province of Anbar also wounded 30 fighters from the powerful militia of Hashd Shaabi (Popular Mobilization), the military added in a statement.
Hashd Shaabi said the US bombing of its facilities left 19 militiamen dead and 35 others injured, the independent portal Alsumaria News reported, citing an official in the group.
In response to the attacks, the Kataib Hezbollah, a Hashed Shaabi faction, called for expelling what it called the “American enemy” from Iraq.
“The military, security forces as well as popular and patriotic powers have to expel the American enemy,” it said.
Iraq’s caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdel-Mahdi meanwhile “categorically rejected” US “unilateral” action, a military official said.
In a phone conversation with Esper, Abdel-Mahdi said he was worried the US move would lead to further escalation, military spokesman Major General Abdel-Karim Khalaf told state news agency INA.
Khalaf said Esper had phoned Abdel-Mahdi half an hour before the launch of the attacks, and the caretaker premier demanded a stop to the strikes.
Last month, Abdel-Mahdi stepped down as premier under pressure from anti-government protests, but remains in office in a caretaker status.
The US strikes on Sunday come after a rocket attack on an Iraqi base near Kirkuk, that resulted in the death of a civilian contractor and injured four US service members and two members of the Iraqi Security Forces, Hoffman said.
The rocket attack on the base hosting US troops took place on Friday night, the US coalition fighting Islamic State said on Saturday.
“KH has a strong linkage with Iran’s Quds Force and has repeatedly received lethal aid and other support from Iran that it has used to attack OIR coalition forces,” according to the Pentagon statement.
The coalition is in Iraq to help ensure the lasting defeat of Islamic State and provide advice and assistance to the Iraqi security forces.
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