In an official statement, the US Department of Defense confirmed that the US conducted "defensive precision strikes" against five Kataib Hezbollah weapon storage facilities to "significantly degrade their ability to conduct future attacks against Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces." Kataib Hezbollah is an Iraqi Shia paramilitary group. The strikes are allegedly taking place in Babylon, located southwest of Baghdad, al-Arabiya reported.
"These strikes were defensive, proportional, and in direct response to the threat posed by Iranian-backed Shia militia groups (SMG) who continue to attack bases hosting OIR coalition forces," the statement adds.
Reports citing the Iraqi Army also state that the US also hit four popular mobilization forces sites including Ḥashd ash-Shabi headquarters. Ḥashd ash-Shabi, which is also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), is an Iraqi state-sponsored organization that is part of the Iraqi Armed Forces. One of the sites is believed to be an uncompleted airport in the Karbala province. There are also unconfirmed reports of two civilian casualties as a result of the US retaliatory strikes.
— Nafiseh Kohnavard (@nafisehkBBC) March 13, 2020
— Arwa Ibrahim (@arwaib) March 13, 2020
A video shared on Twitter shows the bombings and alleges that the airstrikes are bombing "PMF facilities including logistics and drone warehouses" in multiple Iraqi provinces, including Babil, Karbala, Baghdad and Salah al-Din.
— Mehrdad Torabi (@mehrdadt1987) March 12, 2020
One US official told AP that the strikes were targeting Kataib Hezbollah weapons facilities inside Iraq and that the strikes were a joint operation with Britain; one British national died in the Wednesday attacks. However, there are conflicting reports online that Britain is not partaking in the retaliatory strikes. The official US statement does not make any mention of Britain.
"These terror groups must cease their attacks on US and coalition forces or face consequences at a time and place of our choosing. The US and the coalition remain committed to the lasting defeat of ISIS, and the long-term security, stability, and sovereignty of Iraq," the US Department of Defense statement reads. The statement also notes that additional information regarding the strikes will be made during a Wednesday night briefing by General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of US Central Command.
Kataib Hezbollah was commanded by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who was killed, along Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, in a January 3 US airstrike in Baghdad. In February, the US State Department designated Ahmad al-Hamidawi, the new leader of Kataib Hezbollah, as a global terrorist.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman and ranking GOP lawmaker Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned Thursday that the US would have a "very aggressive" response to the Wednesday attack.
“I think the president’s going to be very aggressive,” Graham said, reported The Hill. “At the time of our choosing, we should hit back."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters Wednesday night that US President Donald Trump has given him permission to do what needs to be done.
“We’re going to take this one step at a time, but we’ve got to hold the perpetrators accountable,” Esper said, AP reported. “You don’t get to shoot at our bases and kill and wound Americans and get away with it.”
The Wednesday strike comes after the US announced that it would be moving air and missile defense systems into Iraq in order to defend against ballistic missile and drone threats. That development followed two months after the Ayn al-Asad Air Base in Western Iraq was struck by some 16 Iranian missiles, Sputnik reported.