On Thursday, the United States conducted its first military actions under new president Joe Biden. The action, which targeted infrastructure used by Iranian-backed militias in Syria, was a dispassionate air strike on a strategic target. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reportedly suggested the attack and target to Biden, who authorized the operation Thursday morning.
“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American coalition personnel,” said John Kirby, a spokesman for the Pentagon. The move comes as a retaliation for a recent series of rocket attacks in Iraq. Militias backed by Iran have been lobbing such attacks into Syria and Iraq for several years, consistently injuring military personnel and American nationals.
The US air strike targeted a border control point in al Bukamal, Syria, and destroyed several buildings used by the militias. The infrastructure in that region is often used by groups like Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al Shuhada. The Pentagon did not mention any injuries or deaths from the attack, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that 22 people were killed in the air strike.
The observatory also noted that several trucks full of ammunition being transported from Iraq to Syria were struck in the attack. Noting the strictly military nature of the attack, the UK-based observatory said its sources on the ground are confident that the only people killed or injured in the attack were militia members, not civilians. Furthermore, more deaths can be expected, as many of those injured in the attack are in critical condition.
In response to the attack, the militia groups scrambled to evacuate several other strategic targets in the region, out of fear that the US could send another series of air strikes after them.
Biden’s first military target appears to have been carefully chosen. The new president wanted to show that he would retaliate for attacks on US soldiers, but also not do too much to alienate Iran. The president is currently trying to get Iran back to the negotiating table on a nuclear deal. The Middle Eastern country has been under harsh sanctions for years as a result of breaking international regulations regarding nuclear testing.
This move coincides with the administration reaching out to Iran over American hostages being held in the country. According to reports, the US has also sent a message to Iran via European diplomats, inviting them back to the negotiating table over a potential new nuclear deal.