Over 85 Targets Hit In U.S. Retaliation Strikes Against Iranian Proxies, IRGC (Updated)

The U.S. has launched its much-anticipated strikes in retaliation for the drone attack that killed three U.S. soldiers in Jordan on Jan. 28, a U.S. official confirmed to The War Zone.

The attacks are the first of many expected to take place.

The strikes were carried out in part by U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers, Politico reported.

The U.S. said it would hit back against Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps personnel, as well as Iranian-backed proxy groups like Khataib Hezbollah and the Islamic Resistance in Iraq umbrella group after the deadly drone strike in Jordan as well as more than 160 other attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. Those attacks began in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

U.S. forces have carried out previous attacks against Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria, but nothing like on this scale.

Iranian leaders have insisted they had no role in the Jordan attack and have threatened to retaliate if attacked. There have even been questions raised by U.S. intelligence about how much control Tehran actually has over these groups. On Thursday, however, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that didn’t matter.

“These are Iranian proxy groups,” he said. “And how much Iran knew or didn’t know, we don’t know, but it really doesn’t matter because Iran sponsors these groups, it funds these groups, and in some cases, it trains these groups on advanced conventional weapons,” he explained. Without that facilitation, these kinds of things don’t happen.”

However, in anticipation of these attacks, Iran placed all armed forces on the highest alert, activated surface-to-air defense systems and positioned ballistic missiles along the border with Iraq, according to the three Iranians familiar with the planning, a current official and a former one, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

As we reported Thursday, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps personnel and Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria began to scatter as news leaked about strikes in retaliation for the deaths of Sgt. William J. Rivers, Sgt. Kennedy L. Saunders and Sgt. Breonna A. Moffett, who were killed in the Jan. 28 attack on Tower 22 in Jordan. More than 40 other soldiers were wounded.

Three U.S. troops were killed and more than two dozen injured by an Iranian-backed militia drone strike on Tower 22.
On Jan. 28, three U.S. Army soldiers were killed and more than 40 wounded by a drone that hit Tower 22 in Jordan. (Google Earth image) Google Earth image

This is a developing story.

Update: 5:06 PM Eastern –

CENTCOM has released a statement:

“At 4:00 p.m. (EST) Feb. 02, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) forces conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militia groups. U.S. military forces struck more than 85 targets, with numerous aircraft to include long-range bombers flown from United States. The airstrikes employed more than 125 precision munitions. The facilities that were struck included command and control operations centers, intelligence centers, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicle storages, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces.”

The White House also issued a statement from President Joe Biden:

The White House

Air Force Gen. Alex Grynkewich, AFCENT Commander, also issued a statement:

Update: 5:15 PM Eastern

More video is emerging on social media reportedly of a strike on a munitions warehouse in Al-Qaim, Iraq.

Update: 6:00 PM Eastern

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has now issued his own statement on the strikes in Iraq and Syria. Austin has reiterated President Biden’s comment that this is just the start of a larger effort against Iranian-backed militants in Iraq and Syria, and the IRGC partners.

Austin’s full statement is as follows:

“Following the attack on U.S. and Coalition Forces in northeastern Jordan this past Sunday that killed three U.S. service members, at President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces today conducted strikes on seven facilities, which included more than 85 targets in Iraq and Syria, that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated militias use to attack U.S. forces. This is the start of our response. The President has directed additional actions to hold the IRGC and affiliated militias accountable for their attacks on U.S. and Coalition Forces. These will unfold at times and places of our choosing. We do not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else, but the President and I will not tolerate attacks on American forces. We will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our forces, and our interests.”

Jordanian forces are reportedly set to take part in the forthcoming air campaign, according to the Wall Street Journal. This would be an important show of solidarity with the United States from a key regional ally.

The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe has said that while the U.S. struck more than 85 individual targets in Iraq and Syria, these were spread just eight general locations in those two countries.

The map in the social media below shows three general areas in Syria that appear to have been targeted.

Additional video reportedly from U.S. strikes on location Syria has emerged.

At least one facility belonging to Iranian-backed militias that fall under the umbrella of Iraq’s nominally state-controlled Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) was also struck tonight. Iraq has publicly objected to past U.S. strikes targeting groups within the PMF, despite their links to attacks on American forces in that country and neighboring Syria.

U.S. officials have stressed that there is no plans currently to strike targets in Iran. This is in line with other previous reports recently citing anonymous officials.

Update: 6:35 PM Eastern

A spokesperson for the Commander in Chief of Iraq’s armed forces, Yahia Rasoul, has issued a statement criticizing the U.S. strikes in that country a violation of its sovereignty. The statement also says that the U.S. military’s actions undermine the Iraqi government and risk dragging it into a larger conflict.

There are unconfirmed reports that two commanders of Iranian-backed units within the PMF (also sometimes referred to as Popular Mobilization Units, or PMUs) were killed in the U.S. strikes.

It’s also interesting to note that indications that B-1B bombers were headed toward the Middle East had emerged earlier in the day. Sky News Arabia had reported that some of these aircraft had taken off from a base in the United Kingdom on an unspecified mission, citing an unnamed U.S. official. Earlier in the day, plane spotters had noticed B-1Bs heading out from the United States and east across the Atlantic. As it turn out, some of these bombers were indeed involved, but flew all the way from the United States to prosecute targets in Iraq and/or Syria.

Update: 7:15 PM Eastern

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby and Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims II, Director of Operations for the Joint Staff, addressed reporters tonight, including from The War Zone.

The U.S. airstrikes took place at seven facilities, three in Iraq and four in Syria, over the course of about 30 minutes, according to Kirby.

Sims said the B-1 bombers participating in the strike “flew in a single non-stop flight” from the U.S., “all of that enhanced by our Transportation Command and our ability to gas and go along the way.”

In addition to strikes by U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers that flew from the United States, fighter aircraft based in the CENTCOM region also took part, Sims said in a response to question from The War Zone‘s Howard Altman. He declined to say which kind or from where. Beyond saying that the aircraft used “precision munitions,” Sims declined to specify what kind to a question asked by another reporter.

“These targets were carefully selected to avoid civilian casualties and based on clear, irrefutable evidence that they were connected to attacks on U.S. personnel in the region,” Kirby said. Neither Kirby nor Sims would specify the evidence when asked.

“We do not know at this time if or how many militants may have been killed,” said Kirby, adding that all U.S. aircraft that took part in the strike are safe and returning to their bases. The strikes were designed knowing that IRGC personnel were in the facilities attacked and would likely be killed, Sims said.

Both men declined to say whether strike packages inside Iran were presented to President Joe Biden.

Kirby repeated earlier statements that the intelligence community was only comfortable in saying that the umbrella group known as the Islamic State in Iraq was responsible for the Jan. 28 deadly attack on Tower 22 in Jordan.
Sims told The War Zone that there are no plans to send additional forces to the region in the wake of these attacks and that he had no immediate indication that U.S. allies in the region had come under attack since the airstrikes began.

The attacks were “designed around the weather when we had our best opportunity related to the weather,” said Sims, adding that “good weather presented itself today.”

“The beauty of the American bomber is we can strike anywhere in the world at a time of our choosing,” Sims said when asked why Bones from the U.S. were used. “We’re not limited to just the aircraft that are in the Central Command region, as was the case in this situation.”

Additionally, deploying bombers from the U.S. “limits the requirement to have a number of forces forward,” he said. “We can we can conduct this from our home turf.”

“We’re not trying to send a signal to anybody other than those who mean Americans harm,” Sims said when asked if the strikes were used to send a message to Iran. “And in this case, we struck targets that they got after exactly that.”

“The signal was these attacks have to stop,” Kirby explained.

He went on to say that the strikes were not “just a message-sending routine tonight. This was about degrading capability, taking away in a more robust way than we have in the past, capabilities by the IRGC. They’re not going to end tonight. So there will be additional responses. There will be additional actions that we will take all designed to put an end to these attacks and to take away capability by the IRGC.”

Though there had been reporting that the Iraqi government was upset by the attacks, they were warned ahead of time, Kirby said. There have been no conversations with Iran since the Jan. 28 attacks, he added.

Kirby and Sims declined to say when additional attacks might take place.

Officials are looking at imagery now to see what can be released to the public, said Kirby.

The U.S. is confident the strikes were successful, but “we’re gonna let the sun come up and we’ll be able to start to make some better determinations in terms of battle damage assessment,” Sims said. “We feel really confident about the precision of those targets and the fact that those were strong military targets,” he added. “As you would imagine, we are able to see a good portion of those through our collection methods. And the initial indications are that we hit exactly what we meant to hit, with a number of secondary explosions associated with the ammunition and logistics locations.”

As The War Zone has previously reported, the targets had days to prepare and move.

“I can’t give any particulars about people moving from any of those locations,” said Sims. “I would say and you know, it’s hard. I’m not going to speak for the Iraqi or the Iranian-aligned militia groups there. But my guess is based on the fact that they took the shot at us, and have taken multiple shots at us now, that they were anticipating a response and” they “were likely to move people around. We’re pretty confident that the locations we got…were pretty significant [in] degrading capability, and we will know better in terms of what the [battle damage assessment] looks like tomorrow.”

Update: 7:40 PM Eastern

Fox News has now reported that the U.S. Navy was not involved in any way in tonight’s strikes in Iraq and Syria.

DeirEzzor24 has reported that communications and surveillance equipment, including radars and camera systems, belonging to the Iranian-backed groups and the IRGC partners in Syria were among the things struck by U.S. forces. Various structures, includes ones serving as headquarters, barracks, and materiel warehouses, were also targeted. The War Zone cannot immediately verify the details in this report.

Update 7:42 PM Eastern –

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) is reporting that “13 members of Iranian groups were killed in airstrikes that are believed to be carried out by US forces on Deir Ezzor countryside” in eastern Syria.

The airstrikes “destroyed 17 positions sheltering Iranian militias in Al-Mayadeen (the capital of Iranian militias in Syria) and Al-Bokamal near borders between Syria and Iraq, in addition to airstrikes targeting positions near Deir Ezzor City,” SOHR reported.

Several targets were hit in the Deir Ezzor countryside in eastern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (Google Earth image)

The airstrikes hit “Ayyas warehouses and the area near Deir Ezzor Military Airport, while an ammunition depot of the Iranian militias near the automated bakery on Portsaeed Road near Deir Ezzor City was also destroyed,” according to SOHR. “Meanwhile, explosions were heard in Al-Hezam area and Al-Sina’a Neighbourhood in Al-Bokamal near Syrian-Iraqi borders, as more airstrikes targeted Al-Mayadeen and Iranian camps in Al-Haidariya, Ain Ali Shrine, the archaeological palace and Al-Shably.”

The War Zone cannot independently confirm these details.

Update: 8:09 PM Eastern –

A U.S. official confirmed to us that no Navy aircraft were used in tonight’s strikes and that no A-10 Warthog ground attack aircraft were used either. The official declined to elaborate further on what kinds of aircraft besides the Bones were used.

Update: 11:26 PM Eastern

CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla issued a statement, accompanied by a video of B-1Bs making afterburner takeoffs.

“Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militia groups continue to represent a direct threat to the stability of Iraq, the region, and the safety of Americans. We will continue to take action, do whatever is necessary to protect our people, and hold those responsible who threaten their safety.”

Update: 6:00 AM Eastern

Iraq has warned of “disastrous consequences” for the wider region in the wake of last night’s U.S. airstrikes. Meanwhile, more imagery has emerged of the results of those attacks on Iran-linked targets in the country. The videos below purportedly show damage to Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) locations in Iraq’s Anbar province.

Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister, said: “These airstrikes constitute a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government, and pose a threat that could lead Iraq and the region into disastrous consequences.”

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.