An American military gunship on Monday night fired on and killed three Iran-backed militants who were part of an attack on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, the Pentagon said on Tuesday.
A deputy Pentagon press secretary, Sabrina Singh, said the militants had moved to their vehicle after firing missiles at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, one of the last remaining Iraqi bases where U.S. forces are stationed. The gunship, an AC 130, spotted them from the air, she said.
“The militants were targeted because the AC 130 was able to determine the point of origin,” Ms. Singh said. “We had an aircraft that was able to identify where the close-range ballistic missile was being shot from, and therefore we were able to take action.”
The U.S. strike continued the escalation begun last week by the Biden administration, which conducted a new round of airstrikes in eastern Syria against facilities used by Iran and its proxies. Officials said the strikes killed at least six people and possibly seven. The Biden administration had previously conducted airstrikes that officials said were meant to deter Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the militias it supports in Syria and Iraq, but U.S. officials had said that before last week, they had caused no known casualties.
The administration blames Iran and the militias aligned with it, known as the Axis of Resistance, for what has become a daily barrage of rocket and drone attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.
The latest strike came almost two weeks after American warplanes hit a munitions warehouse in eastern Syria and then several buildings in the region that the Pentagon said were being used for training, logistics and storing munitions, as well as a safe house serving as a command headquarters. An earlier set of U.S. retaliatory strikes came on Oct. 27.
Until last week, President Biden had rejected more aggressive bombing options proposed by the Pentagon out of fear of provoking a wider conflict with Iran. But the U.S. strike on Monday is the second to cause fatalities. American officials say there have been 66 strikes by Iran-backed militias on American troops and bases since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in Israel that Hamas launched from Gaza.