(CNN) — US forces conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against five facilities the Pentagon says are tied to an Iranian-backed militia blamed for a series of attacks on joint US-Iraq military facilities housing American forces.
The strikes occurred at about 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, a source familiar with the matter told CNN. They stand as the first significant military response in retaliation for attacks by the Shia militia group, known as Kataib Hezbollah, that have injured numerous American military personnel, according to US officials.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman described the strikes against the group as “precision defensive strikes” that “will degrade” the group’s ability to conduct future attacks against coalition forces.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper briefed President Donald Trump Saturday before carrying them out with the President’s approval, according to a US official familiar with the strikes.
Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, are expected to travel Sunday to Mar-a-Lago to discuss the strikes with Trump, according to the source familiar with the matter. An administration official also confirmed to CNN the key national security officials’ expected travel.
US officials said the five targets included three Kataib Hezbollah locations in Iraq and two in Syria. Those locations included weapon storage facilities and command and control locations that the group uses “to plan and execute attacks on OIR (Operation Inherent Resolve) coalition forces,” according to the Pentagon.
The strikes all came from the air using F-15 Strike Eagle fighter planes, the US official familiar with the strikes said. Secondary explosions were observed after some of the strikes, indicating the sights may have housed ammunition.
While there were multiple strikes, the sites being hit were relatively small, the official told CNN. Whether the US decides to strike further will depend on the activities of the militia, they said, and whether it conducts additional attacks against US interests.
American officials have blamed the group for attacks like one on Friday on a base near Kirkuk, Iraq, that killed a US civilian contractor and injured four other US service members.
Hoffman asserted again in his statement that the group has links to Iranian forces.
“KH has a strong linkage with Iran’s Quds Force and has repeatedly received lethal aid and other support from Iran that it has used to attack OIR coalition forces,” he said.
The White House had no additional comment when reached by CNN on Sunday.