Pentagon approaches year-end with air strikes in Somalia, Iraq and Syria

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Chair the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley visited troops at Union III Coalition Base, Baghdad, Iraq Nov. 27, 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Desmond Cassell)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. struck five targets in Syria and Iraq in response to attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve coalition forces, then launched other volleys against three terrorist sites in Africa in a weekend of retaliation.

The airstrikes in Syria and Iraq were in response to attacks by an Iranian proxy group on Friday, including one near Kirkuk that resulted in the death of a U.S. contractor and injured four U.S. service members and two members of the Iraqi Security Forces. The group, Kata’ib Hizbollah, has a strong link with Iran’s Quds Force.

Pentagon officials said the attackers fired more than 30 rockets in Friday’s assault — the 11th rocket attack on U.S. and Iraqi forces since late October.

“In response to repeated Kata’ib Hizbollah (KH) attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces, U.S. forces have conducted precision defensive strikes against five KH facilities in Iraq and Syria that will degrade KH’s ability to conduct future attacks against OIR coalition forces,” Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon spokesperson, said in a statement to reporters.

“These locations included weapon storage facilities and command and control locations that KH uses to plan and execute attacks on OIR coalition forces,” he said. “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.”

Some raised concern over the U.S. action.

“It’s a tragedy the life of a U.S. contractor was lost in a missile attack on Friday, but retaliatory strikes risk escalation to a broader regional war that would harm U.S. interests,” Benjamin H. Friedman, policy director at Defense Priorities, said in a statement.

“The U.S. has no good reason to remain militarily involved in a region of diminishing strategic importance. Keeping large numbers of U.S. forces in the Middle East leaves them vulnerable to attacks from countries and groups who could not otherwise threaten them. There is no justifying rationale for such a risk,” he said.

In Somalia, the Pentagon launched three drone airstrikes on Sunday against the Al Qaeda-linked Islamic terrorist group Al-Shabab. Those strikes, made in concurrence with the Somali government, came a day after a truck bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, killed at least 78 people.

“Since(Al-Shabab)’s first external attack in 2010, the group has ruthlessly killed hundreds,” Army Maj. Gen. William Gayler, director of operations for U.S. Africa Command, said in a statement. “They have attacked and killed African partners, allies, and fellow Americans.  They are a global menace and their sights are set on exporting violence regionally and eventually attacking the U.S. homeland.”

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