US bombs facilities in Syria used by militia — 17 fighters killed

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Washington/Beirut

The United States (US) launched airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, targeting facilities near the Iraqi border used by Iranian-backed militia groups.

US defense officials announced the strikes without providing details and with no mention of casualties, saying only that they were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a US service member and other coalition troops.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday said that at least 17 pro-Iran fighters were killed in the US strikes in Syria at the Iraq border overnight.

“The strikes destroyed three lorries carrying munitions… There were many casualties. Preliminary indications are that at least 17 fighters were killed, all members of Popular Mobilization Forces,” the director of the SOHR, Rami Abdul Rahman, told AFP, referencing the powerful coalition of pro-Iran Iraqi paramilitaries.

The airstrike was the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration, which in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist.

Biden’s decision to attack in Syria did not appear to signal an intention to widen US military involvement in the region but rather to demonstrate a will to defend US troops in Iraq.

“I’m confident in the target that we went after, we know what we hit,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters flying with him from California to Washington.

Speaking shortly after the airstrikes, he added, “We’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shia militants that conducted the strikes,” referring to a Feb.

Austin said he recommended the action to Biden. “We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin said.

“We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”— AFP/AP