US launches Middle East airstrikes after soldiers' deaths: 'This is the start of our response'

The U.S. has begun retaliatory strikes on Middle East targets, U.S Defense officials have told Fox News. 

The strikes are in response to the deaths of three U.S. service members last Sunday on a U.S. base in Jordan.  

The initial strikes by manned and unmanned aircraft hit command and control headquarters.

In a statement, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said that forces conducted airstrikes on more than 85 targets in Iraq and Syria against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militia groups.

LIVE: US BEGINS SYRIA TARGET AIRSTRIKES IN RESPONSE TO DEADLY DRONE ATTACK IN JORDAN

Biden attends dignified transfer of 3 fallen US soldiers

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden attend the dignified transfer of the remains of three U.S. service members killed in the drone attack on the U.S. military outpost in Jordan, at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

CENTCOM said that the attack came at 4 p.m. EST on Feb. 2.

President Biden put out a statement shortly after the strikes were confirmed Friday, warning, “If you harm an American, we will respond.” 

“This past Sunday, three American soldiers were killed in Jordan by a drone launched by militant groups backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Earlier today, I attended the dignified return of these brave Americans at Dover Airforce Base, and I have spoken with each of their families,” the president said. 

He added, “This afternoon, at my direction, U.S. military forces struck targets at facilities in Iraq and Syria that the IRGC and affiliated militia use to attack U.S. forces. Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing. The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.”

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U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin echoed Biden in his statement: “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.”

He continued, “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.”

The agency said that forces conducted the strikes with numerous aircraft, including two B-1B bombers. The airstrike also used more than 125 precision munitions. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (AP Photo/Alex Brandon/File)

The 85 targets included command and control operations, intelligence centers, militia group’s rockets, missiles, unmanned vehicle storages and supply chain facilities, CENTCOM said.

All of Friday’s airstrikes were conducted by U.S. warplanes, not Navy vessels, according to a senior defense official.

The strikes come after drone strikes killed three U.S. troops in Jordan last weekend.

The fallen troops were Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46; Spc. Kennedy Landon Sanders, 24; and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, all of whom were from Georgia.

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Biden previously said that he holds Iran responsible for the attack because they supplied the weapons to the people who perpetrated the attack, but he also noted that he does not wish to escalate tensions with the Islamic Republic.

“I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East,” he told reporters on Tuesday, Jan. 30. “That’s not what I’m looking for.”

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters to expect a “tiered approach” and not a single strike.

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“It’s very possible that what you’ll see is a tiered approach here, not just a single action, but potentially multiple actions over a period of time,” he said.

Pentagon

The Pentagon in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak/File)

Kirby said the targets were carefully selected to avoid civilian casualties and based on irrefutable evidence they were connected to attacks on U.S. troops in the region, adding that the Iraqi government was informed before the strikes were launched. 

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He stressed that operations began Friday but will not end on Friday. 

Lt. Gen. Douglas A. Sims II added, “We feel confident– 85 individual targets within each location, we feel really confident about the precision of those targets…strong military targets.”

“We hit exactly what we meant to hit,” he said. 

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., blasted Biden’s “long overdue” response.

Johnson said that the “tragic deaths” of the three American soldiers “demanded” a “clear and forceful response” from the Biden administration.

“The tragic deaths of three U.S. troops in Jordan, perpetrated by Iran-backed militias, demanded a clear and forceful response,” Johnson said in a statement on Friday evening. “Unfortunately, the administration waited for a week and telegraphed to the world, including to Iran, the nature of our response.”

Johnson said that the Biden administration’s “excessive signaling” weakens America’s standing.

“The public handwringing and excessive signaling undercuts our ability to put a decisive end to the barrage of attacks endured over the past few months,” he said.

The Republican house speaker noted that since Hamas’ unprecedented attack on Israel on Oct. 7, U.S. troops have suffered more than 150 attacks in the Middle East.

Johnson argued that it is “long overdue” for the Biden administration to “admit” that its Middle East foreign policy has been “disastrous.”

US ‘NOT LOOKING FOR A WAR WITH IRAN,’ WHITE HOUSE SAYS, STRIKES DESIGNED TO ‘PUT AN END’ TO ATTACKS ON TRUMP 

“We have suffered more than 150 attacks on U.S. forces, lost American lives, and spent billions of dollars in the region since October,” Johnson said. “It is long overdue for the Biden administration to admit that its strategy of appeasing Iran has been disastrous for the international community and regional stability. We must stand firmly against those who would harm Americans, propagate terror, or threaten our allies.”

“Now is the time for President Biden to wake up to the reality that his policy of placating Iran has failed,” he said. “To promote peace, America must project strength.”

Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state during the Trump administration, said that the strikes will only succeed if they convince Iran to stop pushing its proxies to attack American personnel “anywhere in the world.”

“The single measure of their effectiveness will be whether they deter further Iranian aggression,” Pompeo told Fox News Digital.

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“Not just aggression in Jordan or Iraq, but Iranian attacks on U.S. interests anywhere in the world, support for Hamas and Hezbollah against our ally Israel and Iranian attacks on military and commercial vessels in the Red Sea included,” he explained.

Pompeo said that to succeed, due to the Biden administration’s delayed response, the White House will need to display a willingness to “impose real costs” on Iran.

“To achieve this, after such a delayed response following the killing of three Americans, will take a level of seriousness and willingness to impose real costs on Iran we have not seen to date,” he added. “This failure has caused escalation that will not stop until the Biden administration — along with our allies — restores deterrence.”

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This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Fox News’ Bradford Betz, Peter Aitken and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.

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