Will US airstrikes be a gamechanger for Biden’s Mideast policy? – analysis

If the US rate of response is only two retaliatory rounds of strikes to dozens of attacks since January, the US is not deterring the pro-Iran groups.

For the second time this year, the Biden administration has responded to threats to US forces in Iraq by carrying out airstrikes.

The second round of strikes took place early on Monday and targeted militia groups with ties to Iran.

The first airstrikes ordered by the Biden administration took place in late February and also targeted Iran-backed militias in Syria.

“At President [Joe] Biden’s direction, US military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. “The targets were selected because these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

The reason the targeting of these groups is legitimate is because they are being carried out in the border region that is not under Iraqi sovereignty.

Iraq hosts the Popular Mobilization Units, pro-Iranian militias that are technically an official paramilitary force. This means airstrikes carried out on them are actually on Iraqi territory. These militias have carried out dozens of attacks on US forces.

US forces were invited to Iraq in 2014 to help fight ISIS, but since 2017, there have been increasing calls by the militias for them to pull out. Since May 2019, there have been increasing attacks, which culminated in the killing of a US contractor in December 2019 and led to US retaliatory airstrikes.

The US has said it “targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries. Several Iran-backed militia groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), used these facilities.”

Biden is seeking to send a clear message that he will act to protect Americans in Iraq.

The most recent attack took place on Saturday when armed drones, likely flown by pro-Iran militias, targeted Erbil in the autonomous Kurdistan Region. The drones struck areas close to the site of the new US Consulate. No Americans were wounded.

It was not clear what the target was or if the attack was intended to be a message that Iran and its proxies have the means to strike the consulate. Over the past few months, some 45 attacks targeting US forces and facilities have been recorded. These include logistics convoys linked to the US that the militias assume resupply the US facilities.

There were also attacks on US contractors at Balad Air Base. Most importantly, a drone struck a secret CIA hangar at Erbil’s airport in April. The usual modus operandi of the militias is to use 107-mm.or 122-mm. rockets. But in recent months the drone threat has rapidly increased.

“Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting US interests in Iraq, the President directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks,” the US said in a statement. “We are in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq for the sole purpose of assisting the Iraqi Security Forces in their efforts to defeat ISIS. The United States took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation – but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message.”

The US also said it has a right to self-defense and that the president took this action pursuant to his Article II authority to protect US personnel in Iraq.

Washington is currently in the middle of a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Iran wants to pressure the US in Iraq. In addition, Turkey and other players may want to pressure the US’s role in Syria as well.

These “defensive airstrikes conducted today by the Department of Defense on operational and weapons storage facilities in the Iraq-Syria border region appear to be a targeted and proportional response to a serious and specific threat,” US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said.

It was important to protect America’s military, she said in a statement, adding: “The Iran-backed militias utilizing these facilities have been engaged in attacks threatening US service members, as well as our allies. Congress looks forward to receiving and reviewing the formal notification of this operation under the War Powers Act and to receiving additional briefings from the Administration.”

According to Michael Knights, who specializes in Iraqi military security, the airstrikes that hit near the border town of Albukamal between Syria and Iraq “[do] appear to have the space and facilities to be the hub for militia drone development. This is why it was struck. We can expect the Biden team to have gone non/less-lethal again, trading strictly proportionally. Not sure that will cut it.”

He tweeted that he was “not convinced that hitting drone facilities themselves is very fruitful. These are cheap drones using many dual-use and low-cost systems, Iran is close enough [by land so that] resupply is easy and assemblers are replaceable. Only leadership strikes deter.”

The larger point Knights is making is that drone and rocket attacks have increased this year, and the new threat includes at least 10 attacks with several types of drones. If the US rate of response is only two retaliatory rounds of strikes in response to dozens of attacks since January, then the US is not deterring the pro-Iran groups.

Along with Crispin Smith, Knights wrote an article at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy regarding the drone threat.

This leaves a major question mark over whether Biden will go further and whether more strikes will occur. It is clear the Biden administration is attempting to justify the strikes to Congress. However, Iran appears to feel it has the impunity to attack the US, striking secret sites and targeting air defenses and other sensitive areas.

While some pro-Iran claims of attacks may be disinformation, the reality is that they appear to have the upper hand. The US is not prepared to do what the Trump administration did, which was to target Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, key leadership figures of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Popular Mobilization Forces, respectively.

This means the strikes may be more of an example of doing something just so that the US can say it did something. That would not be a game changer, and Iran will likely know that.

This then puts the Pentagon and White House in a bind: They know what needs to be done to deter Iran, but they may not want to increase tensions.

Instead, the US is withdrawing air-defense systems from the region, officials have told The Wall Street Journal. That is not a good message to an Iran that increasingly wants to push the US out of the way.

In addition, during the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May, a drone was launched from Iraq or Syria and flew into Israeli airspace before being shot down. This means the threats in Iraq to US forces also run parallel to emerging threats to Israel in the region.

On the airstrikes:
1) Qaim / Albu Kamal does appear to have the space and facilities to be the hub for militia drone development. This is why it was struck.
2) We can expect Biden team to have gone non/less-lethal again, trading strictly proportionally. Not sure that will cut it
— Michael Knights (@Mikeknightsiraq) June 28, 2021

For the second time this year, the Biden administration has responded to threats to US forces in Iraq by carrying out airstrikes.

The second round of strikes took place early on Monday and targeted militia groups with ties to Iran.

The first airstrikes ordered by the Biden administration took place in late February and also targeted Iran-backed militias in Syria.

“At President [Joe] Biden’s direction, US military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. “The targets were selected because these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] attacks against US personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

The reason the targeting of these groups is legitimate is because they are being carried out in the border region that is not under Iraqi sovereignty.

Iraq hosts the Popular Mobilization Units, pro-Iranian militias that are technically an official paramilitary force. This means airstrikes carried out on them are actually on Iraqi territory. These militias have carried out dozens of attacks on US forces.

US forces were invited to Iraq in 2014 to help fight ISIS, but since 2017, there have been increasing calls by the militias for them to pull out. Since May 2019, there have been increasing attacks, which culminated in the killing of a US contractor in December 2019 and led to US retaliatory airstrikes.

The US has said it “targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries. Several Iran-backed militia groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), used these facilities.”

Biden is seeking to send a clear message that he will act to protect Americans in Iraq.

The most recent attack took place on Saturday when armed drones, likely flown by pro-Iran militias, targeted Erbil in the autonomous Kurdistan Region. The drones struck areas close to the site of the new US Consulate. No Americans were wounded.

It was not clear what the target was or if the attack was intended to be a message that Iran and its proxies have the means to strike the consulate. Over the past few months, some 45 attacks targeting US forces and facilities have been recorded. These include logistics convoys linked to the US that the militias assume resupply the US facilities.

There were also attacks on US contractors at Balad Air Base. Most importantly, a drone struck a secret CIA hangar at Erbil’s airport in April. The usual modus operandi of the militias is to use 107-mm.or 122-mm. rockets. But in recent months the drone threat has rapidly increased.

“Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting US interests in Iraq, the President directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks,” the US said in a statement. “We are in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq for the sole purpose of assisting the Iraqi Security Forces in their efforts to defeat ISIS. The United States took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation – but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message.”

The US also said it has a right to self-defense and that the president took this action pursuant to his Article II authority to protect US personnel in Iraq.

Washington is currently in the middle of a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Iran wants to pressure the US in Iraq. In addition, Turkey and other players may want to pressure the US’s role in Syria as well.

These “defensive airstrikes conducted today by the Department of Defense on operational and weapons storage facilities in the Iraq-Syria border region appear to be a targeted and proportional response to a serious and specific threat,” US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said.

It was important to protect America’s military, she said in a statement, adding: “The Iran-backed militias utilizing these facilities have been engaged in attacks threatening US service members, as well as our allies. Congress looks forward to receiving and reviewing the formal notification of this operation under the War Powers Act and to receiving additional briefings from the Administration.”

According to Michael Knights, who specializes in Iraqi military security, the airstrikes that hit near the border town of Albukamal between Syria and Iraq “[do] appear to have the space and facilities to be the hub for militia drone development. This is why it was struck. We can expect the Biden team to have gone non/less-lethal again, trading strictly proportionally. Not sure that will cut it.”

He tweeted that he was “not convinced that hitting drone facilities themselves is very fruitful. These are cheap drones using many dual-use and low-cost systems, Iran is close enough [by land so that] resupply is easy and assemblers are replaceable. Only leadership strikes deter.”

The larger point Knights is making is that drone and rocket attacks have increased this year, and the new threat includes at least 10 attacks with several types of drones. If the US rate of response is only two retaliatory rounds of strikes in response to dozens of attacks since January, then the US is not deterring the pro-Iran groups.

Along with Crispin Smith, Knights wrote an article at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy regarding the drone threat.

This leaves a major question mark over whether Biden will go further and whether more strikes will occur. It is clear the Biden administration is attempting to justify the strikes to Congress. However, Iran appears to feel it has the impunity to attack the US, striking secret sites and targeting air defenses and other sensitive areas.

While some pro-Iran claims of attacks may be disinformation, the reality is that they appear to have the upper hand. The US is not prepared to do what the Trump administration did, which was to target Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, key leadership figures of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and Popular Mobilization Forces, respectively.

This means the strikes may be more of an example of doing something just so that the US can say it did something. That would not be a game changer, and Iran will likely know that.

This then puts the Pentagon and White House in a bind: They know what needs to be done to deter Iran, but they may not want to increase tensions.

Instead, the US is withdrawing air-defense systems from the region, officials have told The Wall Street Journal. That is not a good message to an Iran that increasingly wants to push the US out of the way.

In addition, during the 11-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in May, a drone was launched from Iraq or Syria and flew into Israeli airspace before being shot down. This means the threats in Iraq to US forces also run parallel to emerging threats to Israel in the region.

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