The United States on Tuesday launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in Iraq in response to ballistic missiles fired Sunday at Al-Asad Air Base that left four Americans with traumatic brain injuries, two US officials said.
“Today, at the direction of President Biden, US military forces carried out necessary and proportionate strikes on three facilities used by the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia and other Iranian-affiliated groups in Iraq. These precision strikes are a direct response to a series of escalatory attacks.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that attacks against US personnel and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria were carried out by Iranian-sponsored militias.
He said, “The president and I will not hesitate to take the necessary measures to defend them and our interests. We do not seek to escalate the conflict in the region.” We are fully prepared to take further measures to protect our employees and facilities. We call on these groups and their Iranian sponsors to immediately stop these attacks.”
Sunday’s attack on US forces at the sprawling Iraqi air base in western Iraq used 17 ballistic missiles and missiles and was launched from inside Iraq, three US officials said.
While the majority of the projectiles were repelled, two ballistic missiles were able to penetrate US air defenses, officials said.
The Pentagon said the attack resulted in structural damage to “non-critical facilities” and that four US service members had returned to duty after being evaluated for traumatic brain injury (TBI). An Iraqi official was also injured in the explosions.
U.S. officials anticipate that additional service members may develop symptoms of traumatic brain injury.
There have been more than 150 missile and drone attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria since mid-October, carried out by Iranian-backed militias who claim to support the Palestinians in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
But their use of ballistic missiles, as happened last weekend, was considered an escalation.
There are still about 2,500 American soldiers serving in Iraq and 900 soldiers in Syria to prevent the return of ISIS.
However, the continued presence of US forces in Iraq was called into question by the Iraqi parliament shortly after a US drone strike on January 4 killed a senior commander of one of the Iranian-backed militia groups responsible for attacks on US forces.
That drone strike and other retaliatory strikes carried out inside Iraq and Syria have so far not prevented groups from continuing to launch attacks.
These attacks are a sign of escalating tensions in the region for the United States, which also carried out retaliatory strikes in Yemen targeting Houthi militants responsible for more than 30 attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.
More recently, the United States and the United Kingdom on Monday carried out another major strike against Houthi sites linked to shipping attacks.
It was the eighth retaliatory airstrike carried out against Houthi targets since January 11, which US officials say has weakened the Houthis’ ability to carry out attacks even as they continue to do so.
This is a developing story. . Please check back for updates
This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com