The U.S. carried out military strikes on five sites in Iraq and Syria said were linked to the Iranian-backed militia that was responsible for a rocket attack that killed an American contractor last week, a Pentagon spokesman said in a statement.
The “precision defensive strikes” targeted weapons depots and command centers belonging to Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, according to Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Hoffman. Three of the sites were in Iraq and two in Syria.
The Iraqi military’s Joint Operations Command said in a statement that three U.S. airstrikes hit the headquarters of the Kataeb Hezbollahs at the Iraq-Syria border, killing four fighters. A militia spokesman said the strikes left at least 19 of its members dead.
Hoffman said Kataeb Hezbollah – which is separate from the Lebanese Hezbollah – was behind attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, including an attack on Friday in which at least 30 rockets were fired at an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk. That attack left an American contractor dead and four U.S. service members, as well as two Iraqi soldiers, wounded .
He said the U.S. strikes would limit the militia’s ability to carry out future attacks on coalition forces.
“The U.S. and its coalition partners fully respect Iraqi sovereignty and support a strong and independent Iraq. The U.S., however, will not be deterred from exercising its right of self-defense,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman said Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi – who is serving in an interim role after resigning in November amid massive unrest and anti-government protests that left about 500 people dead – “have shared with each other their commitment” to see the Kataeb Hezbollah attacks “cease once and for all.”
But on Sunday Abdul-Mahdi condemned the strikes and said Esper called him just 30 minutes ahead of time to tell him the U.S. was about to retaliate for Friday’s rocket attack.
Abdul-Mahdi called the U.S. strikes a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a “dangerous escalation that threatens the security of Iraq and the region.”
The Pentagon said Kataeb Hezbollah “has a strong linkage to Iran’s Quds Force has repeatedly received lethal aid and other support from Iran.” The Quds Force is an elite part of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which President Donald Trump designated a foreign terrorist organization in April.
“Iran and their KH proxy forces must cease their attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, and respect Iraq’s sovereignty, to prevent additional defensive actions by U.S. forces,” Hoffman said.
Contributing: The Associated Press