WASHINGTON — The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike in eastern Syria against structures belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militias responsible for recent attacks against American and allied personnel in Iraq.
The strikes were authorized by President Biden in response to the recent attacks in Iraq and to continuing threats to American and coalition personnel, said John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, who spoke with reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III in California.
A rocket attack on the airport in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil this month killed a civilian contractor with the American-led military coalition and wounded six others, including a U.S. service member and four American contractors.
American officials said the military response was essentially a tiny demonstration strike: one bomb dropped on a small cluster of buildings on the Syria-Iraq border used to transit militia fighters and weaponry in and out of the country.
The strike was just over the border in Syria to avoid diplomatic blowback to the Iraqi government. The Pentagon offered up several larger groups of targets but Mr. Biden approved the smallest option, American officials said.
The American airstrikes on Thursday “specifically destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militia troops, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada,” Mr. Kirby said.
“This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners,” Mr. Kirby said. “The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel.”
Mr. Kirby said the American retaliation was meant to punish the perpetrators of the rocket attack but not to escalate hostilities with Iran, with which the Biden administration has sought to renew talks on a nuclear deal that President Donald J. Trump had shelved.
“We have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” Mr. Kirby said.
Mr. Biden authorized the strikes on Thursday morning, as his defense secretary was at a hotel in San Diego, preparing to visit the aircraft carrier Nimitz, which was returning home from the Persian Gulf.