US airstrikes on dozens of Iran-related targets in Iraq and Syria were just the beginning of retaliatory attacks on Iran’s IRGC, Pentagon chief said Friday night.
Minutes into Saturday (3 February) local time, US military hit more than 85 sites belonging to IRGC Quds Force and its allied armed groups, in retaliation for last weekend’s drone attack on a US base in Jordan which killed 3 American soldiers and wounded more than 30.
“‘This is the start of our response,” US secretary of defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement shortly after the attack.. “The President has directed additional actions to hold the IRGC and affiliated militias accountable for their attacks on U.S. and Coalition Forces. These will unfold at times and places of our choosing.”
More than 125 precision munitions were employed in the 30-minute attack, according to US Central Command. The targets included “command and control operations centers, intelligence centers,” and drone and missile storages belonging to “militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces.”
The operation was by far the biggest and most extensive attack against Iran and its proxies since last October. Its impact, however, is harder to gauge in the absence of reliable information. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor has claimed that at least 18 Iran-backed fighters have been killed in the strikes –their nationalities still unknown.
However, early Saturday, AlJazeera reported that IRGC Quds force had no base in the targeted areas, raising more questions about the merits of the operation after nearly a week of public chatter that can give potential targets enough notice to relocate or shelter.
“Unfortunately, the administration waited for a week and telegraphed to the world, including to Iran, the nature of our response,” US House Speaker Mike Johnson wrote on X. “Now is the time for President Biden to wake up to the reality that his policy of placating Iran has failed.”
Shortly after the airstrikes, President Biden reiterated that he doesn’t want a war with Iran. “But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this,” he added, if you harm an American, we will respond.”
Armed groups in Syria and Iraq, funded and trained by Iran, have launched more than 150 attacks against American soldiers since Israel began its onslaught against Gaza.
“Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militia groups continue to represent a direct threat to the stability of Iraq, the region, and the safety of Americans,” CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla said Friday night. .” We will continue to take action, do whatever is necessary to protect our people, and hold those responsible who threaten their safety."
US officials told reporters that the Biden administration has no plans to bomb Iran, even though they believe that it had armed the groups behind the Tower 22 attack.
“The goal here is to get these attacks to stop,” US national security spokesperson John Kirby said. “We’re not looking for a war with Iran.”
Experts say the retaliatory strikes Friday night were clearly designed to minimize the risk of a direct confrontation between the US and Iran, while destroying the latter’s arsenal in Syria and Iraq. In the Congress, many are opposed –and have been opposed– to the idea of a cautious and limited response.
“Iran and its proxies have tried to kill American soldiers and sink our warships 165 times while the Biden administration congratulates itself for doing the bare minimum,” Senator Roger Wicker of the Armed Services Committee posted on X. “Instead of giving the Ayatollah the bloody nose it deserves, we continue to give him a slap on the wrist.”
But the director of operations of the Joint Staff Gen Sims, rejected the notion that the delay in response to the killing of American soldiers was to give Iran time to pull its forces out of danger. The targets of the retaliation, he pointed out, would have scattered as soon as their weapons had been fired, so the 5-day delay did not make much difference. But there were many reports by news agencies and local observers who noted Iran was pulling out top commanders and assets from potential target areas.