Why US carries out airstrikes targeting Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria?

China Military Online
Li Wei
2021-03-02 17:27:34

By Liu Pinran and Deng Xianlai

The US military launched airstrikes on Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria and destroyed multiple facilities on February 25, said the US Department of Defense the very day, which was the first corroborated military operation authorized by Biden after he took office.

Biden ordered the attack on the morning of February 25, said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, adding that the intelligence assistance by the Iraqis “was very helpful to us in refining the target”.

The New York Times quoted an American official as saying that American troops dropped seven bombs on complexes used to transport weapons and personnel, while the Washington Post reported several deaths.

The Pentagon issued a statement saying these strikes were authorized in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq and to ongoing threats to those personnel. Analysts said the operation sent an unambiguous message that Iran was not going to gain bargaining chips by harming America’s interests.

Besides, the move could help the Biden administration dismiss the allies’ and Republicans’ doubts about its Iran policy. Although the new administration has made security commitments to regional countries, its recent announcement to return to the Iranian nuclear deal has in a way worried the Gulf countries, Israel, and Republicans in the country that Biden might ease up the pressure on Tehran. The latest airstrikes were solid proof that Washington will not "connive in" the malicious actions by Iran and its proxies in the region, and some Republican senators already welcomed the strike on the very day of its implementation.

Why did the US choose to launch airstrikes in eastern Syria rather than Iraq? An American official told the media it was a “top-down” decision that involved more than military considerations.

The hits on targets within the Iraqi territory authorized by the Trump administration have triggered intense anti-US sentiments within Iraq, so the Biden administration decided to attack targets in Syria to avoid unnecessary conflicts with the Iraqi government, especially to prevent its anti-US sentiments being utilized by Tehran.

Pentagon called the strike “a defensive operation”, saying the American troops conducted the operation very carefully with the aim of mitigating the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq. Given the statement from the US side and the reported mode of operation and casualties, it seems Washington doesn’t want the attack to escalate its tension with Tehran further.

The SITE Intelligence Group published on its social media account that media agencies linked with Shiite militants played down the airstrikes that day.

Recently, there have been signs of new progress on the Iranian nuclear issue. The White House has repeatedly expressed its willingness to discuss with all participants in the Iranian nuclear deal about a resolution through diplomatic means. It made a goodwill gesture last week by loosening the travel restrictions on the permanent Iranian mission to the New York-based UN and rescinding the letter by the Trump team last year announcing the resumption of the UN sanction on Iran unilaterally.

However, on February 24, Iran’s president Rohani demanded Washington to immediately stop its failed policy of “economic terrorism” against his country and made that the precondition for restarting the multilateral negotiation on the nuclear agreement.

Barbara Slavin, an Iran expert at the Atlantic Council, an American think tank, told the reporter via email that we need to see if Iran will strike back. Hopefully, the strike won’t endanger the nuclear issue negotiations, but the situation is very complicated now.



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