The threat level for U.S. troops in Iraq has been raised on Friday over concerns of retaliation over U.S. airstrikes in Syria on Thursday night.
The heightened threat level was raised by Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve and could last for several days. It was first reported by Fox News, who cited two sources familiar with the matter.
“Protection of coalition troops is the #1 priority, so taking force protection levels higher is wise and prudent,” one source told Fox News.
Separately, contracting company Sallyport Global, placed U.S. contractors at Balad Air Base on high alert status. Balad was the target of a rocket attack last week, that left one person injured.
As a result of the high alert status on base, mission-essential operations will be the only movement allowed on base after hours between 6:30 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. local time. Personnel moving outdoors are required to wear protective equipment.
The heightened alert comes less than 24 hours after President Joe Biden directed airstrikes on Iran-backed militia targets in east Syria on Thursday night. The strike followed 10 days after militia groups fired off rocket attacks on U.S.-led Coalition forces in Erbil, Iraq, which left one Philippines civilian contractor dead, and six others wounded, including a U.S. service member.
On Monday, another rocket attack targeted the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. A U.S. State Department official said on Tuesday that Iran was behind the attack and the U.S. would hold Iran responsible, but the U.S. did not intend to lash out with its response.
On Friday when reporters Biden asked what message he intended to send with the airstrike, he said, “You can’t act with impunity. Be careful.”
Sources for Reuters say at least 17 were killed in the strike, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitoring group estimated 22 militants were killed. The group also said three trucks filled with ammunition were destroyed in the strike.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters Thursday night that he was the one who recommended the strike to Biden, and said he was confident the strikes were successful against the militia targets.
“We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin said. “We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”