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Reports: Biden’s Syria airstrike carried out by F-15 fighter jets with 500lb bombs; up to 22 killed

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Bruch/Released)
February 26, 2021

Thursday night’s airstrike against Iran-backed militias in Syria, ordered by President Joe Biden, was carried out by U.S. Air Force F-15 “Strike Eagle” fighter jets, according to U.S. officials who spoke with Fox News.

The F-15 fighter jets dropped a total of seven 500-pound bombs during the strike.

The Air Force reportedly planned to target two different compounds in Syria, both belonging to the Iran-backed Shia militias, but the attack on the second target was called off after drone surveillance revealed too many civilians near the target. The seven bombs instead impacted seven small buildings comprising the first target compound at around 1 a.m. Friday morning in eastern Syria.

An Iraqi militia official who spoke with the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity said the bombs landed in an area on the border between Boukamal, Syria, and Qaim, Iraq.

“I’m confident in the target that we went after, we know what we hit,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said shortly after the strike. Austin said he was confident the strike hit pro-Iranian militias suspected in a series of recent rocket attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq. One of the attacks resulted in the death of one civilian contractor and injury to five more contractors and a U.S. service member.

Austin said he was the one who recommended the strike to Biden.

“We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin told reporters Thursday night. “We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”

In another statement issued by the targeted militia, known as the Kataeb Hezbollah, the militia group said one of its fighters was killed in the strike and the AP reported several more were injured. The Kataeb Hezbollah is separate from the more widely-known Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based group of Syrian war observers, said they believe the strikes targeted shipments of weapons making their way across the Iraqi border into Syria. The group also estimated that 22 fighters for the Popular Mobilization Front (PMF), a broad network of pro-Iranian militias that includes that Kataeb Hezbollah, were killed in the attack, though their estimates could not be independently verified.

Sources for Reuters estimated at least 17 people were killed in the airstrike.

Austin also credited Iraqi intelligence officials for helping develop the information that led to the strike. He said, “We allowed and encouraged the Iraqis to investigate and develop intelligence and that was very helpful to us in refining the target.”

According to Fox News, Iraqi officials have separately denied any cooperation in the U.S. strike and have said Iraq only coordinates with the U.S. to target the ISIS terror group.

Iran-backed Iraqi militias have also fought against ISIS as well as on behalf of Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria’s civil war.