US President Joe Biden called off a second airstrike targeting militias in Syria last month after last-minute intelligence reported the presence of a woman and children at the location.
He had ordered two strikes on Iran-backed militias in Syria in response to attacks against US forces in northern Iraq by Iranian proxy militias earlier that month.
But just 30 minutes before the second strike was due to go ahead, Biden received an urgent warning from intelligence operators, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.
The planes were already in the air on their way to the target when they were called off. One militia fighter was killed in the attack that did go ahead, and two more were wounded.
The strike — the first of the Biden presidency — was seen as a warning to Iran that its provocations in the Middle East would not be ignored by the new administration, but that it is not seeking escalation.
The WSJ reported that a confidential message was sent to Tehran following the strike to reinforce that message.
February saw two attacks by Iran-backed militias on US forces in Iraq. One contractor was killed and seven Americans injured in a missile strike on Erbil airport in northern Iraq in mid-February, followed days later by a rocket attack on Balad airbase that injured one contractor.
What followed was an extensive diplomatic and military campaign intended to reassure US allies in the Iraqi government and make sure the American message was clear to Tehran.
One Biden administration official told the WSJ: “We knew that this was the first time we were going to be making a decision like this and that we would be under a lot of scrutiny.” Another said: “We made sure the Iranians knew what our intent was.”
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