The United States and Britain launched fresh retaliatory strikes against Iran-linked sites late on February 3, hitting 36 Huthi targets in Yemen as they followed through on threats to continue military action against groups that have attacked Western interests in the region.
A U.S. statement said the latest strikes were carried out by ships and warplanes, part of efforts to retaliate following a drone strike in Jordan last month that killed three American service members, an attack Washington blamed on Tehran and its allies operating in Syria and Iraq.
The statement said 13 different locations in Yemen were hit by U.S. F/A-18 jets from the Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier and by U.S. warships in the Red Sea firing Tomahawk missiles.
U.S. officials earlier said they believe air strikes on dozens of Iran-linked sites in Syria and Iraq late on February 2 were successful and U.S. allies expressed support, as Iran, Iraq, and Syria expressed anger amid concerns of widening conflict in the region.
U.S. allies expressed support for the move as Iran, Iraq, and Syria expressed anger amid concerns of widening conflict in the region.
Officials from U.S. allies Britain and Poland issued statements in support of the U.S. actions, citing Washington’s right to respond to attacks and warning that Iran proxies were “playing with fire.”
Tehran said it “strongly” condemns the air strikes.
Iraq said it summoned the U.S. charge d’affaires in Baghdad to protest.
Reports from Iraq and Syria suggested that around 40 people had been killed in strikes at seven locations, four in Syria and three in Iraq.
Baghdad said earlier that 16 troops of a state security body known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, which includes Iran-backed entities, had been killed. Earlier, it said the dead included civilians.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Andulrahman, said 23 guards at targeted sites had been killed.
U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement released shortly after the attacks that “our response began today,” adding: “It will continue at times and places of our choosing.”
“The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond,” he added.
A British government spokesperson on February 3 condemned alleged Iranian actions in the region as “destabilizing” and reiterated London’s “steadfast” alliance with Washington.
“The U.K. and U.S. are steadfast allies,” the spokesperson, quoted by Reuters, said. “We wouldn’t comment on their operations, but we support their right to respond to attacks.
The spokesperson added: “We have long condemned Iran’s destabilizing activity throughout the region, including its political, financial, and military support to a number of militant groups.”
Another NATO ally, Poland, also condemned Iran and the groups it allegedly sponsors.
“Iran’s proxies have played with fire for months and years,” Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said as he arrived for an EU meeting in Brussels, “and it’s now burning them.”
Iran, whose Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) have extensive ties to some militias in the region, accused the United States of undermining stability.
“Last night’s attack on Syria and Iraq is an adventurous action and another strategic mistake by the U.S. government, which will have no result other than intensifying tension and instability in the region,” Naser Kanani, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Shia al-Sudani accused the U.S.-led military coalition in the region of threatening security and stability in his country and attacking its sovereignty.
His office said the casualties included some civilians among 16 dead and two dozen injured.
Sudani also rejected any suggestion that Washington had coordinated the air strikes with his government.
After a previous U.S. air strike in Baghdad, Sudani asked for the 2,000 or so U.S. troops in Iraq to be withdrawn — a sensitive bilateral topic.
The Foreign Ministry of Syria called the U.S. actions a path to further conflict.
“What [the United States] committed has served to fuel conflict in the Middle East in a very dangerous way,” the ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the United States “did inform the Iraqi government prior to the strikes” but did not provide details. He said the attacks lasted about 30 minutes and included B-1 bombers that had flown from the United States.
Lieutenant General Douglas Sims of the U.S. Joint Staff was quoted as saying secondary explosions suggested the strikes had successfully hit weaponry. He also said that planners were aware anyone in those facilities was at risk.
“U.S. military forces struck more than 85 targets, with numerous aircraft to include long-range bombers flown from United States,” U.S. Central Command said, adding that it had struck “command and control operations, centers, intelligence centers, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicle storages, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces.”
U.S. officials have said that the deadly January 28 attack in Jordan carried the “footprints” of Tehran-sponsored Kataib Hizballah militia in Iraq and vowed to hold those responsible to account at a time and place of Washington’s choosing, most likely in Syria or Iraq.
On January 31, Kataib Hizballah extremists in Iraq announced a “suspension” of operations against U.S. forces. The group said the pause was meant to prevent “embarrassing” the Iraqi government and hinted that the drone attack had been linked to the U.S. support of Israel in the war in Gaza.
Biden has been under pressure from opposition Republicans to take a harder line against Iran following the Jordan attack, but said earlier this week that “I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That’s not what I’m looking for.”
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has said Tehran “will not start any war, but if anyone wants to bully us, they will receive a strong response.”
The Associated Press quoted a spokesman for the Iran-backed Harakat al-Nujaba militia in Iraq as saying “every action elicits a reaction” but also adding that “we do not wish to escalate or widen regional tensions.” He said most of the sites bombed were “devoid of fighters and military personnel” at the time.
The clashes between U.S. forces and Iran-backed militia have come against the background of an intense four-month military campaign in Gaza Strip against the U.S.- and EU-designated terrorist group Hamas after a Hamas attack killed at least 1,200 people in Israel, most of them civilians.
The Iran-backed Huthi rebels hit in Yemen on February 3 have also waged attacks on international shipping in the region in what they call an effort to target Israeli vessels and demonstrate support for Palestinians.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is traveling to his fifth round of crisis talks in the region from February 3-8, with visits reportedly planned to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Israel, and the West Bank in an effort to promote a release of hostages taken by Hamas in its brutal October 7 raids.