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Biden orders strike against Iran-aligned group after three US soldiers injured in Iraq: NPR

President Biden answers a reporter’s question as he departs Marine One upon arrival on the South Lawn of the White House, December 20, 2023, in Washington, DC.

Alex Brandon/AP

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Alex Brandon/AP

President Biden answers a reporter’s question as he departs Marine One upon arrival on the South Lawn of the White House, December 20, 2023, in Washington, DC.

Alex Brandon/AP

WASHINGTON — President Biden has ordered the U.S. military to carry out retaliatory strikes against Iranian-backed militias after three American service members were injured in a drone attack in northern Iraq.

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said one of the U.S. soldiers was seriously injured in the attack earlier Monday. The Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia and its affiliated groups, led by Iranian-backed militants, claimed responsibility for the attack using a one-way attack drone.

Biden, who is spending Christmas at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, was alerted to the attack by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan shortly after it occurred on Monday and ordered the Pentagon and its top national security aides to prepare response options for the Erbil Air Base attack.

Sullivan consulted with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Biden’s deputy national security adviser, Jon Finer, was with the president at Camp David and convened his top aides to review options, according to a U.S. official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested the anonymity.

Within hours, Biden convened his national security team for a call in which Austin and Gen. CQ Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefed Biden on response options. Biden chose to target three locations used by Kataib Hezbollah and its affiliated groups, the official said.

The American strikes took place around 4:45 a.m. Tuesday in Iraq, less than 13 hours after the attack on American personnel. According to US Central Command, the retaliatory strikes on the three sites “destroyed the targeted facilities and likely killed a number of Kataib Hezbollah militants.”

“The president does not place a higher priority on protecting American personnel serving in dangerous situations,” Watson said. “The United States will act when and how it chooses if these attacks continue.”

The latest attack on U.S. troops follows months of escalating threats and actions against U.S. forces in the region since Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that sparked the devastating war in Gaza.

The dangerous back-and-forth strikes have intensified since Iranian-backed militant groups called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq and Syria began striking U.S. facilities on Oct. 17, when an explosion at a hospital in Gaza has killed hundreds of people. Iran-backed militias have carried out dozens of attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria since the war between Israel and Hamas began more than two months ago.

The United States has also accused Iran, which financed and trained Hamas, of being responsible for attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militants on commercial and military vessels through a critical shipping point in the Red Sea.

The Biden administration has sought to prevent the war between Israel and Hamas from escalating into a broader regional conflict that would either open new Israeli fighting fronts or draw the United States directly into them. The administration’s measured response – where all attempts against US troops failed to result in a counterattack – drew criticism from Republicans.

The United States has thousands of troops in Iraq to train Iraqi forces and fight remnants of the Islamic State group, and hundreds in Syria, mainly as part of the anti-IS mission. They have suffered dozens of attacks, but none yet fatal, since the war began on October 7, with the United States blaming Iranian-backed groups.

“While we do not seek to escalate conflict in the region, we are committed and fully prepared to take the additional steps necessary to protect our people and facilities,” Austin said in a statement.

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