U.S. stages retaliatory airstrikes in Iraq against Iranian-backed militias

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Jan. 23 (UPI) -- The United States carried out airstrikes in Iraq on Tuesday against Iranian-backed militias in retaliation for a ballistic missile attack Sunday at Al-Assad Airbase, where four U.S. personnel suffered traumatic brain injuries, according to U.S. officials.

"Today, at President Biden's direction, U.S. military forces conducted necessary and proportionate strikes on three facilities used by the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group and other Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

"These precision strikes are in direct response to a series of escalatory attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-sponsored militias."

"These strikes targeted KH headquarters, storage and training locations for rocket, missile and one-way attack UAV capabilities," U.S. Central Command added Tuesday in a post on X.

On Sunday, 17 ballistic missiles and rockets were launched by Iranian-backed militants in Western Iraq targeting Al-Assad Airbase, according to U.S. CENTCOM. While most of the missiles were intercepted by the base's air defense systems, two hit the base, causing damage and injuries.

The four U.S. troops who suffered traumatic brain injuries in the attack have all returned to duty.

"I am grateful for both the skill and professionalism with which our personnel planned and conducted these strikes and the continued efforts of our troops on the ground as they work with regional partners to further dismantle and degrade ISIS," Austin said Tuesday.

"We do not seek to escalate conflict in the region. We are fully prepared to take further measures to protect our people and our facilities," Austin said. "We call on these groups and their Iranian sponsors to immediately cease these attacks."

Tuesday's airstrikes come after multiple strikes over the last ten days against the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, which have presented an "imminent threat" to vessels transiting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

On Monday, the United States and United Kingdom carried out an eighth retaliatory strike against Houthi locations associated with the shipping attacks.

The White House issued a joint statement Tuesday with the governments of Albania, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Guinea-Bissau, Hungary, Italy, Kenya, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, the United Kingdom and the United States, condemning the attacks.

"In response to continued and reckless Houthi attacks against vessels transiting the Red Sea and surrounding waterways, the armed forces of the United States and United Kingdom, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand, conducted additional strikes against eight targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen," the White House wrote in a statement Tuesday.

"The thirty-plus attacks that the Houthis have launched on commercial and naval vessels since mid-November constitute a threat to all countries that rely on international maritime shipping," the statement said.

"We condemn these attacks, and demand an end to them."