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US launches retaliatory strikes in Iraq, Syria

The United States on Friday evening launched its first series of retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria, following a series of strikes on an American outpost in Jordan that killed three soldiers.

US Central Command released a statement saying its forces struck more than 85 targets in Iraq and Syria, targeting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force in addition to other affiliated armed groups in the two countries.

The attacks used aircraft including "long-range bombers flown from [the] United States" and the air strikes used "more than 125 precision munitions", according to Centcom.

The US military said the sites it hit included: command centres; intelligence centres, rockets and missiles; and logistics and supply chain facilities.

Syrian state media reported several strikes in the country’s desert areas on the border with Iraq, and reported casualties without further detail.

US President Joe Biden said in a statement that Washington's response will continue.

"Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing," he said.

"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."

One IRGC officer killed in Syria

A series of air strikes were also reported in Syria earlier on Friday, striking confusion ahead of the US military's planned strikes.

Iranian media outlets linked Israel to the earlier strikes, which killed an officer in the IRGC in a southern district of Damascus.

Several Iranian media outlets reported that the officer's identity was Saeed Alidadi, who was deployed to Syria to serve as a military advisor.

Israel has not taken credit for the strike or commented publicly about it, which is routine for Israeli strikes in Syria.

 Washington had been gearing up this past week for its response to the attack in Jordan, with the Biden administration promising a "multi-tiered" response to the attacks that could last weeks.

The attack in Jordan took place on Sunday near the border with Syria and left three US soldiers dead while injuring more than 30 others.

White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that the attack that killed three US soldiers in Jordan is linked to the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq”, an umbrella group of Iran-backed paramilitaries.

It occurred at the same time a US drone was returning to the base, leading to confusion about whether the incoming drone was a friend or foe. Because of this, air defence systems were not immediately activated.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq is an umbrella group formed in October in response to Israel’s war on Gaza and has carried out attacks against US targets in Iraq, Syria and now Jordan. The group has also claimed responsibility for attacks in Israel. All the organisations in the group are pro-Iran and the most prominent among them is Kataib Hezbollah.

The comments on Thursday from Kirby, the White House spokesman, noted that the US believed the Jordan attack had the “footprints of Kataib Hezbollah”.

Shortly after, Kataib Hezbollah announced it was suspending actions against US forces. Since the announcement, there have been no new strikes against the US in the region.

“We announce the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government,” said Abu Hussein al-Hamidawi, secretary general of the paramilitary group.

“We will continue to defend our people in Gaza in other ways.”

Iranian-backed militias have launched more than 150 attacks on US forces in the region since 7 October when the war between Palestine and Israel began. The US has also carried out several retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria since 7 October.

The attacks on Friday did not strike inside Iran, and Middle East Eye reported earlier this week that current and former US officials say such a direct strike on Iran is unlikely to happen.

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