The United States launched air strikes on an Iranian-backed militia site in Syria on Thursday night, the first known military intervention by US president Joe Biden since his inauguration.
The Pentagon announced that the targeted strike had destroyed “multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups” and had been authorised in response to recent attacks against American and coalition forces in Iraq and “ongoing threats to those personnel”.
A Pentagon spokesman said the attacks were “proportionate” and delivered and “unambiguous message: president Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq.”
No casualties were reported.
The intervention targeted a small site near the Iraqi border which the US says has been used as a weapons-smuggling site. It follows three attacks against US forces in recent weeks, including a February 15th rocket attack near the city of Irbil which killed one foreign contractor and injured several others. An attack in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone this week was also believed to have targeted the US embassy.
The development comes at a sensitive moment in US-Iranian relations as the Biden administration considers re-joining the Iran nuclear deal. Iran has been increasing its nuclear stockpile, following former US president Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the official name for the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.
The Biden administration has indicated it is prepared to begin negotiations with Tehran and has been working closely with Britain, France and Germany, the three European signatories to the deal, this month.
Meanwhile, the US is expected to imminently release a report into the killing of Jamal Khashoggi that is expected to link Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman to the murder of the US-based journalist in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
Mr Biden held his first conversation since his election with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Thursday. According to the White House the president raised human rights issues with the 85 year-old monarch.
The Gulf Kingdom had close ties with the Trump administration. But Mr Biden has described the country as a “pariah”, despite the historically close links between Washington and Riyadh.
The US has already imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi officials alleged to have been involved in the Khashoggi murder and dismemberment, but those sanctions could also be applied to the crown prince.
Newly appointed director of national intelligence Avril Haines told senators during her confirmation hearing that the CIA report into the journalist’s killing would be declassified and released.