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Biden: Syria Strikes Sent Iran Warning 02/27 09:45

   President Joe Biden said Friday that Iran should view his decision to 
authorize U.S. airstrikes in Syria as a warning that it can expect consequences 
for its support of militia groups that threaten U.S. interests or personnel.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden said Friday that Iran should view his 
decision to authorize U.S. airstrikes in Syria as a warning that it can expect 
consequences for its support of militia groups that threaten U.S. interests or 
personnel.

   "You can't act with impunity. Be careful," Biden said when a reporter asked 
what message he had intended to send with the airstrikes, which the Pentagon 
said destroyed several buildings in eastern Syria but were not intended to 
eradicate the militia groups that used them to facilitate attacks inside Iraq.

   Administration officials defended the Thursday night airstrikes as legal and 
appropriate, saying they took out facilities that housed valuable 
"capabilities" used by Iranian-backed militia groups to attack American and 
allied forces in Iraq.

   John Kirby, the Pentagon's chief spokesperson, said members of Congress were 
notified before the strikes as two Air Force F-15E aircraft launched seven 
missiles, destroying nine facilities and heavily damaging two others, rendering 
both "functionally destroyed." He said the facilities, at "entry control 
points" on the border, had been used by militia groups the U.S. deems 
responsible for recent attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq.

   In a political twist for the new Democratic administration, several leading 
Congress members in Biden's own party denounced the strikes, which were the 
first military actions he authorized. Democrats said the airstrikes were done 
without authorization from lawmakers, while Republicans were more supportive.

   "Offensive military action without congressional approval is not 
constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances," said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. 
And Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said lawmakers must hold the current 
administration to the same standards as any other. "Retaliatory strikes not 
necessary to prevent an imminent threat," he said, must get congressional 
authorization.

   But Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed 
Services Committee, backed the decision as "the correct, proportionate response 
to protect American lives."

   White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that Biden used 
his constitutional authority to defend U.S. personnel.

   "The targets were chosen to correspond to the recent attacks on facilities 
and to deter the risk of additional attacks over the coming weeks," she said.

   Among the recent attacks cited was a Feb. 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq 
that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other 
coalition troops.

   At the Pentagon, Kirby said the operation was "a defensive strike" on a 
waystation used by militants to move weapons and materials for attacks into 
Iraq. But he noted that while it sent a message of deterrence and eroded their 
ability to strike from that compound, the militias have other sites and 
capabilities. He said the strikes resulted in "casualties" but declined to 
provide further details on how many were killed or injured and what was inside 
the buildings pending the completion of a broader assessment of damage 
inflicted.

   An Iraqi militia official said Friday that the strikes killed one fighter 
and wounded several others.

   Kirby said the facilities hit in the attack were near Boukamal, on the 
Syrian side of the Iraq border, along the Euphrates River.

   "This location is known to facilitate Iranian-aligned militia group 
activity," he said. He described the site as a "compound" that previously had 
been used by the Islamic State group when it held sway in the area.

   The Iraqi militia official told The Associated Press that the strikes 
against the Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, hit an area along the 
border between the Syrian site of Boukamal facing Qaim on the Iraqi side. The 
official was not authorized to speak publicly of the attack and spoke on 
condition of anonymity.

   Speaking to reporters Thursday evening shortly after the airstrikes were 
carried out, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, "I'm confident in the target 
that we went after. We know what we hit."

   Biden's decision to attack in Syria did not appear to signal an intention to 
widen U.S. military involvement in the region but rather to demonstrate a will 
to defend U.S. troops in Iraq and send a message to Iran. The Biden 
administration in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus 
on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist.

   The U.S. has previously targeted facilities in Syria belonging to Kataeb 
Hezbollah, which it has blamed for numerous attacks targeting U.S. personnel 
and interests in Iraq. The Iraqi Kataeb is separate from the Lebanese Hezbollah 
movement.

   The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors 
the war in Syria, said the strikes targeted a shipment of weapons that were 
being taken by trucks entering Syrian territories from Iraq. The group said 22 
fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi umbrella group of 
mostly Shiite paramilitaries that includes Kataeb Hezbollah, were killed. The 
report could not be independently verified.

   In a statement, the group confirmed one of its fighters was killed and said 
it reserved the right to retaliate, without elaborating. Kataeb Hezbollah, like 
other Iranian-backed factions, maintains fighters in Syria to both fight 
against the Islamic State group and assist Syrian President Bashar Assad's 
forces in that country's civil war.

   Austin said he was confident the U.S. had hit back at "the same Shia 
militants" that carried out the Feb.1 5 rocket attack in northern Iraq.

   Kirby credited Iraqis with providing valuable intelligence that allowed the 
U.S. to identify the groups responsible for attacks earlier this year. The 
U.S., he said, then determined the appropriate target for the retaliatory 
strike. He said the U.S. also notified Russia shortly before the strike as part 
of the ongoing deconfliction process of military activities in Syria.

   "The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to 
protect American and coalition personnel," Kirby said.

   Syria condemned the U.S. strike, calling it "a cowardly and systematic 
American aggression," warning that the attack will lead to consequences.

   U.S. forces have been significantly reduced in Iraq to 2,500 personnel and 
no longer partake in combat missions with Iraqi forces in ongoing operations 
against the Islamic State group.

 
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