US airstrikes have pounded three Kataib Hezbollah military facilities near the town of Qaim, Iraq, as well as two targets in Syria, in response to the group’s alleged bombing of an Iraqi military base on Friday.
The US carried out “defensive strikes” against the supposed Kataib Hezbollah facilities on Sunday, US officials told Reuters. The targets included weapons storage locations and command and control stations, and F-15 fighter jets were used in the attack. Three locations near Qaim, on the Iraq/Syria border, and two locations in Syria were hit.
Chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement that the strikes were a “response to repeated Kataib Hezbollah attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces.”
Reuters’ military sources said that at least 18 militiamen were killed in the strikes, including at least four local Kataib Hezbollah commanders.
Two days earlier, the same Kataib Hezbollah fighters and their Iraqi Shia allies were blamed by US officials for a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk, some 250 miles east of Qaim. The rocket barrage killed an American contractor and wounded several US troops.
Kataib Hezbollah is an Iraqi paramilitary group, but is financially supported by Iran. Its allies in the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces were first deployed by the Iraqi government to combat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) jihadists in 2014, but the government has since struggled to bring them under the command of the Iraqi military.
The rocket attack inflamed anti-Iran sentiment in the US, with Republican Senator Tom Cotton (Arkansas) warning that “Tehran ought to face swift and severe consequences” for its alleged involvement. Responding to similar attacks, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened Iran earlier this month with a “decisive US response” should they continue.
Iran’s involvement, however, has not been conclusively established.