Pompeo questions Biden’s Syria airstrike despite Republican backing

Pompeo questions Biden’s Syria airstrike: 'I hope it wasn't just bombs in the desert'
3 min read
26 February, 2021
US fighter jets dropped seven precision bombs in Syria, hitting seven targets including a crossing used by Iran-backed groups to move weapons across the border into Iraq.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo [Getty]

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo downplayed the US military's first action under President Joe Biden, saying he hoped “it wasn’t just bombs in the desert.”

The airstrikes launched on Thursday night targeted facilities in eastern Syria allegedly used by Iran-backed militia, including by Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, to launch attacks against US forces in Iraq.

“I hope it really went after something that threatened the United States of America. If not, it's useless,” Pompeo told Fox News in reaction to the attack, which killed at least 17 pro-Iran fighters.

According to the Pentagon, US fighter jets dropped seven 500-lb Joint Direct Attack Munition-guided precision bombs, hitting seven targets including a crossing used by the armed groups to move weapons across the border.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that “these strikes were authorised in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel.”

“This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with Coalition partners. The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel,” Kirby said.

On February 15, an attack on the main military base inside the airport in Erbil killed one foreign civilian contractor and wounded at least nine others, including an American soldier. On Monday, a rocket landed in Baghdad's Green Zone targeted the US Embassy, causing no casualties.

Read also: US strikes 'Iranian-backed militant' site in Syria: Pentagon

Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin told CNN the site was not specifically tied to the rocket attacks against US outposts, but he was "confident" it was used by the same Iranian-backed Shia militias that had fired rockets at US and coalition forces.

Pompeo has backed former President Trump’s hard line against Iran. The Trump administration carried out strikes against Syria territory in 2017 and 2018. In January 2020, the Trump administration also carried out a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' (IRGC) elite Quds Force.

The former Secretary of State told Fox News he didn’t know "what [the US military] struck or what targets they went after.” But “weakness and appeasement of the Iranians will only be rewarded with more terror from them," he said.

Despite Pompeo’s scepticism, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Representative, Michael McCaul, said the strikes were the right move.

“Responses like this are a necessary deterrent and remind Iran, its proxies, and our adversaries around the world that attacks on US interests will not be tolerated,” McCaul said.

In an interview to CNN, Retired Lt. General Mark Hertling, who served in the Iraq War and the Gulf War, said the US attack was “a signal” and a “proportional response to the Iranian government.”

“There are dozens of Iranian-backed militias within Iraq and within Syria who have been harassing the US forces, the Iraqi government is tired of these Iranian militias, but they can’t do as much about them because of the political implications there.”

Former Obama adviser David Axelrod told the news channel the attack was also a message that “[Iran] is not going to get a pass because the [nuclear] talks have been offered.”

“Just because they want to move forward on an agreement to try and limit the nuclear program in Iran doesn’t mean they are going to turn a blind eye to the aggressive behaviour on the part of Iran,” he said.  

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