February 2021 United States airstrike in Syria

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February 2021 United States airstrike in Syria
Part of the 2019–2021 Persian Gulf crisis and the American-led intervention in the Syrian civil war
Deir ez-Zor in Syria (+Golan hatched).svg
Location of Deir ez-Zor Governorate in Syria
TypeAir Interdiction
Planned by United States
Commanded byJoe Biden
Target Kata'ib Hezbollah
Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada
Date25 February 2021 (2021-02-25) (local time, UTC+3)
Executed byUnited States Air Force
Casualties1–22 militiamen killed[a]
Several wounded[2]

On February 25, 2021, the United States military carried out an airstrike on a site which it believed to have been occupied by Iranian-backed Iraqi militias operating from across the border in eastern Syria.[5][6] The unilateral operation was in retaliation for multiple rocket attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq ten days prior[7] and was the first known offensive military operation carried out under U.S. president Joe Biden.[8][9]


The United States intervened in Iraq in 2014 as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, a U.S.-led coalition tasked with combating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Iran intervened in the country as well, supporting Shia militias, several of which are hostile to the U.S.-led coalition. Rocket attacks against U.S. forces in the country increased during the 2019–2021 Persian Gulf crisis. Iran has been involved in Syria's civil war since the onset of the conflict in 2011, initially advising pro-government elements there, while the U.S. has played an active role in the conflict reportedly since 2012 but only formally intervening as part of Inherent Resolve in 2014.

On February 15, 2021, ten days before the airstrike, a rocket attack in the Iraqi city of Erbil killed an Operation Inherent Resolve coalition civilian contractor from the Philippines and injured six others, including one U.S. soldier.[10][11]

On February 20, 2021, another rocket attack targeted Balad Air Base in Iraq's Saladin Governorate, wounding one South African civilian contractor working for the U.S.-led coalition.[12]


The airstrike targeted a small cluster of buildings in al-Hurri village[13] near Abu Kamal, believed by the United States Department of Defense to be occupied by members of the Iraqi Kata'ib Hezbollah and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada militias.[7][11][14] Seven 500lb bombs[15] equipped with JDAM guidance kits[7] were dropped from two U.S. F-15E fighter jets, destroying nine facilities and rendering two others uninhabitable.[16] U.S. defense and Biden administration officials publicly emphasized the "limited" nature of the operation, saying the strike was aimed at impeding the militias' abilities to conduct future attacks.[17] The Wall Street Journal later reported that a second strike was called off by Biden after "a woman and a couple of children" were spotted in the area.[18]

The death toll of the strike is unclear due to inconsistent reports from different entities. Reuters cited local reports that at least 17 had been killed,[3] while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 22 deaths.[4] Kata'ib Hezbollah claimed that just one person was killed and four others were injured.[2]

It was the first publicly acknowledged offensive military operation carried out by the Biden administration.[8]


Following the strikes, U.S. president Joe Biden warned Iran, saying, "You can't act with impunity, be careful."[13] Pentagon spokesman John Kirby called the airstrikes a "proportionate military response" to the prior rocket attacks. At the same time, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he recommended the operation to Biden.[6] Iran condemned the strike as "a violation of Syria's sovereignty" and denied responsibility for rocket attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.[19]

U.S. Representative Michael McCaul regarded the airstrike as a "necessary deterrent" and said that attacks on U.S. interests "will not be tolerated." However, the operation was criticized by some in the U.S. Congress for potential unconstitutionality. Senators Tim Kaine and Chris Murphy called for a congressional briefing on the legality of the strikes and Representative Ro Khanna argued there was "no justification for a president to authorize a military strike that is not in self-defense against an imminent threat without congressional authorization," adding that the airstrike made Biden "the seventh consecutive US president to order strikes in the Middle East".[13][20] The National Security Council said it notified Congress beforehand and Biden defended the operation in a letter to Congress on February 27, arguing for its constitutionality, citing Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, and saying he ordered the airstrikes "to protect and defend our personnel and our partners" against future rocket attacks.[21]

Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, "Mick" Mulroy, commented that the strikes were likely conducted in Syria rather than Iraq in order to avoid issues for the Iraqi government.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kata'ib Hezbollah claimed that only one of their militiamen were killed.[2] Reuters, citing a "medical source at a hospital in the area and several local sources", reported that 17 people had been killed,[3] while Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 22 militiamen killed in the airstrike.[4]


  1. ^ Roblin, Sebastian (February 26, 2021). "Biden's Retaliatory Strike In Syria Is A Double-Edged Message To Tehran". Retrieved March 2, 2021 – via www.forbes.com.
  2. ^ a b c "US attacks 'Iranian-backed military infrastructure' in Syria | Syria News". Al Jazeera. February 26, 2021. Retrieved 2021-02-28.
  3. ^ a b Stewart, Idrees Ali, Phil (Feb 26, 2021). "U.S. air strikes in Syria target Iranian-backed militia - Pentagon". Retrieved Feb 28, 2021 – via www.reuters.com.
  4. ^ a b "Death toll update | 22 militiamen of Iraqi Hezbollah and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces in US strikes on Syria-Iraq border • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights". Feb 26, 2021. Retrieved Feb 28, 2021.
  5. ^ De Luce, Dan; Gains, Mosheh; Gubash, Charlene; Welker, Kristen (26 February 2021). "U.S. bombs facilities in Syria used by Iran-backed militia". NBC News. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  6. ^ a b Romo, Vanessa (February 25, 2021). "U.S. Launches Military Airstrikes Against Iranian-Backed Militants In Syria". NPR. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  7. ^ a b c Starr, Barbara; Liebermann, Oren (February 26, 2021). "US carries out air strikes in Syria targeting Iranian backed militia structures". CNN. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  8. ^ a b "Joe Biden orders airstrike against Iranian-backed militia in Syria". ABC News. 26 February 2021. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  9. ^ "U.S. targets Iranian-backed militias in Syria with airstrikes". CBS News. 26 February 2021. Archived from the original on 26 February 2021. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
  10. ^ Gains, Mosheh; Williams, Abigail; Smith, Saphora (16 February 2021). "Iraq rocket attack kills contractor, wounds U.S. service member". NBC News. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  11. ^ a b Cooper, Helene; Schmitt, Eric (26 February 2021). "U.S. Airstrikes in Syria Target Iran-Backed Militias That Rocketed U.S. Troops in Iraq". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  12. ^ Abdul-Zahra, Qassim (20 February 2021). "Iraqi officials: Rockets strike north air base, one injured". Associated Press News.
  13. ^ a b c Judd, Donald; Kelly, Caroline (26 February 2021). "Biden's message to Iran with missile strikes: 'You can't act with impunity, be careful'". CNN.
  14. ^ "U.S. Conducts Defensive Airstrikes Against Iranian-backed Militia in Syria". U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE. Retrieved 2021-03-01.
  15. ^ Roblin, Sebastien. "Biden's Retaliatory Strike In Syria Is A Double-Edged Message To Tehran". Forbes. Retrieved 2021-03-07.
  16. ^ Baldor, Lolita; Burns, Robert; Abdul-Zahra, Qassim (26 February 2021). "US strike, first under Biden, kills Iran-backed militiaman". Associated Press. Retrieved 26 February 2021.
  17. ^ a b Seligman, Lara (25 February 2021). "U.S. carries out airstrike in Syria after rocket attacks". Politico. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  18. ^ Youssef, Nancy A.; Lubold, Gordon; Gordon, Michael R. (2021-03-04). "WSJ News Exclusive | Biden Called Off Strike on a Second Military Target in Syria Last Week". [The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2021-03-05.
  19. ^ "Iran condemns U.S. strikes in Syria, denies attacks in Iraq". Reuters. 27 February 2021. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  20. ^ González, Oriana (26 February 2021). "Democrats call for briefing on legal justification for Biden's Syria strike". Axios. Retrieved 3 March 2021.
  21. ^ "Biden explains justification for Syria strike in letter to Congress". Axios. 27 February 2021. Retrieved 3 March 2021.