President Biden ordered strikes on three locations in Iraq after three U.S. service members were wounded, one critically, in an attack on Erbil Air Base early Christmas morning credited to a militia group backed by Iran.
In a statement Monday, National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Biden directed the strikes against three facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups, which claimed credit for the initial attack against U.S. personnel.
The groups, the U.S. said, are all connected to Iran.
The attack was carried out by a one-way attack drone, according to the statement, which said the three locations were “focused specifically on unmanned aerial drone activities.”
The statement said Biden ordered the retaliatory strikes after learning of the attack that wounded the U.S. service members.
“President Biden was immediately briefed on the attack this morning, and he ordered the Department of Defense to prepare response options against those responsible. Those options were then presented to the President during a call this afternoon with Secretary of Defense Austin and members of the President’s national security team,” the statement read.
“During that call, the President directed strikes against three locations utilized by Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups focused specifically on unmanned aerial drone activities,” the statement continued.
“The President places no higher priority than the protection of American personnel serving in harm’s way. The United States will act at a time and in a manner of our choosing should these attacks continue.”
The attacks come as the Israeli war in Gaza continues to stoke tensions in the region. The Biden administration has backed Israel in the war, while militia groups across the region backed by Iran have increased their military actions in response to the bombardment of Gaza.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a statement called the strikes “necessary and proportionate” and said they were “intended to disrupt and degrade capabilities of the Iran-aligned militia groups directly responsible.”
Austin echoed Biden’s warning that the U.S. is prepared to take further action if necessary.
“Let me be clear – the President and I will not hesitate to take necessary action to defend the United States, our troops, and our interests. There is no higher priority,” Austin said in the statement.
“While we do not seek to escalate conflict in the region, we are committed and fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities.”
This story was updated at 10:51 p.m.