After earlier in the day President Trump authorized the Pentagon to "do what we need to do" in terms of a military response against Iran-backed militias believed responsible for Wednesday's rocket attacks on Camp Taji, which killed one British and two American soldiers, and wounded at least a dozen more, there are widespread reports the US has initiated massive airstrikes over southern Iraq late Thursday night.
A BBC correspondent in the region is describing "multiple strikes across Iran-backed groups' facilities" which include "logistics and drone warehouses."
Early reports suggest the attack includes "large amounts of munitions" on multiple Iraqi Shia militia targets. Moments after initial reports on social media US defense offcials confirmed that "airstrikes are underway against Iran-backed militia group that hit Iraq base," according to the Associated Press.
Bombing #Iran-backed paramilitary group positions around #Karbala and #Salahaddin is significant. This is the largest amount of force I've seen against Hashd (#PMF) so far. These areas are considered "No fly zones" for #Coalition. Jets may have come from #UAE or #Kuwait— Nafiseh Kohnavard (@nafisehkBBC) March 12, 2020
As if the Mideast region and the world for that matter needs another crisis to worry about, this could be the start of the kind of tit-for-tat between the US and Iran which paved the way for the US killing by drone of IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani on January 3rd. Since then, the two have been on a war footing.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper hours ago warned the US would hold the groups behind Wednesday's attack on Taji base accountable. “You don't get to shoot at our bases and kill and wound Americans and get away with it,” he said earlier.
According to Fox News security correspondent Jennifer Griffin:
The US response will be “proportional” targeting multiple locations used by Iranian backed Shia militias across Iraq and along Syrian border.
Will be limited to airstrikes: source. Will degrade Shia militia/ Kata’eb Hezbollah ability to strike: US military source.
#BREAKING— Heshmat Alavi (@HeshmatAlavi) March 12, 2020
-U.S. military confirming airstrikes
-Iraqi activists reporting warplanes flying over multiple provinces of Iraq, including Salahadin, Baghdad, Anbar, Babil, Karbala
-Video of Jurf Sakharpic.twitter.com/xCDZsR2DSL
The US has said Kata'eb Hezbollah is responsible, given it's "the only group known to have previously conducted an indirect fire attack of this scale against U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq." The major attack had utilized at least 15 Soviet-era rocket artillery and further left a dozen wounded.
A top Pentagon general also said earlier the Iran-backed militias were to blame and that the US can identify the culprit with a "high degree of certainty".