Mass killing in Myanmar has ‘clear echoes of Syria,’ UN human rights commissioner warns. The parallels are eerie.

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A protester makes a three-finger salute as others march on February 07, 2021 in Yangon, Myanmar.

  • Myanmar has “clear echoes of Syria in 2011,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday.
  • The military in Myanmar overthrow the democratically elected government in February.
  • It has killed hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in the weeks since.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Myanmar is on the verge of a “full-blown conflict,” a top United Nations official warned Tuesday, urging the world community not to repeat the passive observation that allowed the conflict in Syria to grow into the bloodiest of the 21st century.

“There are clear echoes of Syria in 2011,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said.

“There too we saw peaceful protests met with unnecessary and clearly disproportionate force,” said Bachelet, a former president of Chile, noting that the absence of an international response led the repression to both persist and grow worse, leading to “some individuals taking up arms, followed by a downward and rapidly expanding spiral of violence.”

In February, Myanmar’s long-dominant military overthrew the country’s tenuous democracy, making false claims of voter fraud to evict de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party from power. In the weeks since, the military has repeatedly opened fire on protesters, killing over 700 people, including 82 in one city last Friday.

In March, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration was “deeply concerned” by the violence in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

“We, of course, continue to work with our allies and partners and like-minded institutions as we condemn the actions of the military, call for the immediate restoration of democracy, and hold those who seize power accountable,” Psaki said.

But in her remarks Tuesday, Bachelet said the world was not doing nearly enough to actually stop the bloodshed.

“Statements of condemnation, and limited targeted sanctions, are clearly not enough,” she said. “States with influence need to urgently apply concerted pressure on the military in Myanmar to halt the commission of grave human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity.”

Myanmar’s envoy to the UN, appointed by the last democratically elected government, has urged the international community to impose an arms embargo on the country as well as a no-fly zone, which would entail forcing the military junta’s aircraft out of the skies.

While much attention has been focused on the military’s response to pro-democracy rallies, it has also been launching airstrikes against armed groups in Karen state, along the border with Thailand. Locals have claimed the strikes have exacted a civilian toll, causing thousands to flee and prompting fears of an all-out civil war.

Syria 2.0?

The parallels to Syria are glaring. In early 2011, thousands of people inspired by the Arab Spring took to the streets to demand reform in an authoritarian dictatorship led by Bashar al-Assad. The crackdown was swift and brutal: snipers took shots at activists, thousands of whom disappeared in torture chambers (the UN would later declare the government guilty of “extermination”).

At first, Western leaders offered only tepid criticism. “What’s been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “but there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities [and] police actions which, frankly, have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.”

Many members of Congress, she added, believe Assad is a “reformer.” Indeed, the US had collaborated with Assad’s government during the War on Terror, the Bush administration sent detainees there who were later tortured. (The US, likewise, helped train Myanmar’s military, suspending that assistance in 2017 amid the Rohingya genocide.) And the Obama administration had recently reopened the US embassy in Damascus, hoping to see a formal peace agreement between Israel and Assad’s government.

It would take months more for President Barack Obama to demand Assad step down – time that allowed massacres to continue and armed groups, including extremists, to fill the vacuum left by the seeming indifference of the world’s democracies.

Assad would go on to bomb most of the country’s cities to rubble, while using chemical weapons to kill civilians who defied his regime, according to reports from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That – a death toll in the hundreds of thousands, with millions forced to become refugees – is a future Bachelet hopes to stave off.

“The military seems intent on intensifying its pitiless policy of violence against the people of Myanmar, using military-grade and indiscriminate weaponry,” she observed.

But it is not just the US and its allies that she called out. At the UN, Russia and China, as with Syria before, have blocked the UN from even condemning the coup in Myanmar.

“The UN High Commissioner has sounded the alarm bell,” Sherine Tadros, deputy director of advocacy at Amnesty International, told Insider. “It’s now up to members of the Security Council to act and impose a comprehensive, global arms embargo and targeted sanctions on senior officials before the situation worsens further.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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There are no victories left to win for US troops in Iraq and Syria. It’s time for Biden to bring them home.

Army soldiers Syria Bradley fighting vehicle
US soldiers walk to an oil production facility to meet with its management team, in Syria, October 27,2020.

  • The US still has 3,500 troops in Iraq and several hundred more in Syria.
  • Any benefit the US may get from those deployments is dwarfed by the risks of keeping them there.
  • Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and former US Army lieutenant colonel.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The United States will engage in a “strategic dialogue” with Iraq this month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week. The key agenda item, she explained, was the US combat deployment there.

How or whether to extend the operation should not be part of the discussion. Nailing down details of the withdrawal should.

The 3,500 US troops currently in Iraq serve no purpose related to American national security. They don’t have a militarily attainable mission which could be recognized and signal the end of the deployment. The only benefactor is the government in Baghdad and even they are ready to show America the exit.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told reporters in Iraq he is approaching April’s dialogue with Washington as a chance to push for the withdrawal of American troops. He cited what he considered a positive outcome from the June 2020 strategic dialogue with the US in which Iraq “succeeded in reducing the size of the US combat forces in Iraq by 60%.”

In this upcoming meeting, al-Kadhimi added, he will seek the complete “redeployment of [US] forces outside of Iraq.” The administration, however, appeared interested in cooling such talk.

Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Iraq
A US Army crew chief looks over the Tigris River from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Iraq, March 3, 2021.

At the recent press briefing, Psaki sought to “further clarify that coalition forces are in Iraq solely for the purpose of training and advising Iraqi forces to ensure that ISIS cannot reconstitute.” If the troops are not officially engaged in direct combat, some believe, the deployment will be more palatable to the American people.

There is little evidence the US population cares about the nuance, however. Upward of 75% want the troops to return home. Such views are well-founded, as the troops no longer provide even nominal support for US security interests.

The reason troops are in Iraq at all today is because President Barack Obama sent them to help Baghdad fend off the rise of ISIS in the summer of 2014.

When President Donald Trump assumed office, he beefed up the military presence and gave them the mission of helping the Iraqi military (and later Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria) retake the territory ISIS had captured. That mission was completed in Iraq in November 2017 and in Syria in March 2019.

Today ISIS has been driven underground, as is the case with numerous other violent insurgent groups in the Middle East. Though ISIS poses a potential terror threat – as literally scores of other radical groups do – the threat they pose is limited and in any case is not diminished by having a few thousand troops on the ground in either Iraq or Syria.

Lt. Gen. Paul Calvert, commander of the US-led counter-ISIS mission in Iraq and Syria, told Defense One that ISIS’s “ability to reemerge is extremely low right now.”

What does concern Calvert, however, are the volatile cultural and political conditions in both countries. “It’s clear to me and people that I’ve talked to [in Iraqi government],” Calvert said, “there’s a significant amount of concern in terms of the possibilities of an internal Shia civil war.” Things in Syria are even worse.

Army soldier M2 Bradley fighting vehicle Syria
A US soldier next to an M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle in northeastern Syria, December 16, 2020.

Aside from the ongoing civil war, operating within Syria are Iranian troops fighting alongside Syrian troops, Russian Air Force bombers striking anti-Syrian targets, Russian mercenaries, Shia militias, Kurdish elements Turkey considers terrorists, and Kurdish groups the US considers allies.

American troops have sometimes narrowly avoided armed clashes with Russian combat troops, Syrian troops, and even its NATO-ally Turkey. In somewhat of an understatement, Calvert said the “level of complexity in Syria is immense and is probably one of the most complex environments I have seen in the 33 years that I’ve been serving.”

Whatever incremental security benefit may exist with US troops being deployed in Iraq and Syria, they are dwarfed by the strategic risk we incur every minute we remain on the ground there.

We are in a sea of civil conflict in Syria and in danger of semi-regular rocket attacks in Iraq. Our military presence cannot influence the political outcome in either country.

The best thing Biden can do for the security of the United States and to preserve the lives of our service members from unnecessary risk at the security dialogue with Baghdad is to withdraw our troops, in full, from both Iraq and Syria as soon as possible.

Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the US Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

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Biden supports Congress scrapping post-9/11 laws that led to ‘forever wars’

Joe Biden
Then-Vice President Joe Biden meets with U.S. troops in Maidan Wardak province January 11, 2011.

  • Biden to work with Congress to repeal post-9/11 laws that gave presidents a blank check to wage war.
  • The White House said they aim to replace the laws with a “narrow” framework that protects the US.
  • There’s been growing bipartisan support in Congress to rein in presidential war powers.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden intends to work with congressional lawmakers to repeal laws passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks that effectively gave every commander-in-chief since a blank check to wage war, the White House said on Friday, per Politico.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a statement said Biden wants to “ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars.”

The authorizations for use of military force (AUMF) on the table for repeal include the 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF. 

The 2001 AUMF was passed only days after 9/11 with overwhelming support in Congress – there was only one dissenting vote. It authorized the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump interpreted this law broadly to conduct military actions across the globe. The 2001 AUMF – the linchpin of the global war on terror – has been used to justify at least 41 military operations in 19 countries. It opened the door for the invasion of Afghanistan, launching the longest war in US history – which has lasted for nearly two decades.

The 2002 AUMF, which was approved in October 2002, paved the way for the US invasion of Iraq. Trump cited the 2002 AUMF to justify a drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, a strike that brought the countries to the brink of war. 

The law authorized the president “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to – (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”

Biden voted in favor of both laws as a senator, later stating it was a mistake to support the Iraq invasion.

During the Trump era, there were growing bipartisan calls for presidential war powers to be reined in. Many in Congress felt they’d abdicated their constitutional role in declaring war via laws such as the military authorizations passed after 9/11.

These sentiments have carried on into the Biden era, with a bipartisan group of senators unveiling a bill earlier this week to repeal the 2002 AUMF as well as a 1991 authorization prior to the first Iraq war (Gulf War). The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, was introduced less than a week after Biden ordered airstrikes in Syria targeting Iran-backed militias. 

Kaine and other lawmakers from both parties have expressed concern about Biden’s Syria strikes, questioning their legality. The Biden administration did not lean on the 2001 or 2002 AUMF in defense of the action. It justified the strikes based on Article II of the Constitution, which designates the president as commander-in-chief of the military, and principles of self-defense under international law. But lawmakers have still expressed anger that congressional approval was not sought prior to the strikes. 

The Biden administration would work closely with lawmakers like Kaine in terms of the effort to repeal the post-9/11 military authorizations. 

“Tim Kaine has been a leader on questions of war powers throughout his time in the Senate,” Psaki said in her statement, via Politico, “and has helped build a strong bipartisan coalition that understands the importance of Congress’s constitutional prerogatives.”

A spokesperson for Kaine told Politico the senator “believes that President Biden, who has a deep understanding of both congressional and executive responsibilities, is in a unique position to help America restore balance in how we make decisions about war and peace.” The spokesperson said Kaine is already “in bipartisan discussion with his colleagues and the administration.”

America’s global war on terror has killed over 800,000 people in direct war violence, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project, and the US government places the cost of the vast, convoluted conflict at over $6.4 trillion. The war, which will officially enter its 20th year in October, has also displaced at least 37 million people. Repealing laws like the 2001 AUMF and 2002 AUMF could help bring an end to the war on terror, or at least drastically limit the scope of US counterterrorism operations.

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Biden defends airstrike on Syria in letter to leaders in Congress and says US has the right to defend itself

Joe Biden lights
Joe Biden at the Lincoln Memorial on January 19, 2021.

  • President Joe Biden justified airstrikes in Syria in a letter to congressional lawmakers. 
  • Biden said he directed the airstrikes in response to a recent militant strike in Iraq. 
  • He said the US “always stands ready to take necessary and proportionate action in self-defense.”
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden justified his decision to strike Syria in a letter to congressional leadership on Saturday. 

On Thursday night, Biden directed airstrikes against the assets of “Iranian-backed militant groups” in Syria. 

In his letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and President pro tempore of the Senate Patrick Leahy, Biden said the strike was “pursuant to the United States’ inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.”

The Pentagon said the move came after a series of recent attacks against US and coalition forces in Iraq. Last week, a contractor was killed and others were injured after militants fired rockets at an Iraqi airbase used by the US military.

Biden referenced the attack to justify the strike. 

“In response, I directed this military action to protect and defend our personnel and our partners against these attacks and future such attacks,” he wrote. “The United States always stands ready to take necessary and proportionate action in self-defense, including when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory by non-state militia groups responsible for such attacks. 

Biden also said he was providing the report as part of his “efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution,” which says presidents have 48 hours after taking military action to inform Congress. 

Biden faced criticism from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, many of whom questioned his authority to launch the strikes. 

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, tweeted: “We ran on ending wars, not escalating conflicts in the Middle East. Our foreign policy needs to be rooted in diplomacy & the rule of law, not retaliatory air strikes without Congressional authorization.”

Members of Congress have previously pushed to repeal the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs), which were enacted after 9/11 and gave presidents the authority to wage war around the world, Insider’s John Haltiwanger and Ryan Pickrell previously reported.

 

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7,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to regroup in key areas, general warns

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An Iraqi policeman directs traffic during COVID-19 testing at the capital Baghdad’s Shorja market on February 22, 2021.

  • ISIS is using lull period caused by the pandemic to regroup, a Kurdish general told the Times.
  • Siwan Barzani said that coalition forces had been forced to suspend training due to COVID-19
  • All the while, ISIS fighters have been infiltrating the civilian population and building up their base again.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Thousands of Islamic State jihadists are using lull period caused by the coronavirus pandemic to regroup in key areas and are threatening a new wave of attacks, a Kurdish general has warned, according to the Times. 

Siwan Barzani, a commander of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, stationed near the northern city of Arbil in Iraq, told the Times last week that as coronavirus spread throughout the world in March, coalition forces were forced to put much of their activity on hold.

They had to suspend joint raids with Iraqi forces and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces of northern Syria and are now only operating their aircraft at about 80 percent capacity, Barzani said.

On top of this, the United States completed a reduction of its forces in Iraq to 2,500 troops last month – about half the level of less than a year ago. British troops have also been sent home after Camp Taji’s military base, north of Baghdad, was handed over to Iraqi security forces last year. Only 100 British troops remain.

Officials, former fighters, and residents now fear the drawdown is creating a security vacuum in the country, Reuters reported last month. 

ISIS fighters have been exploiting the opportunity to reorganize in Iraq and are, as per the Times, emerging from hiding among civilians to start operating in the country’s mountainous regions again.

“When the liberation started for the whole area, they shaved their beards and posed as civilians, but they were waiting for the opportunity, and slowly they went back to rejoin them,” Barzani said, according to the Times.

“They reorganized themselves quicker because of the pandemic and because there were less Coalition operations. That was something that was good for them but bad for us, of course,” he added.

Barzani estimates that there are now more than 7,000 ISIS fighters in Iraq.

The group is said to have already ramped up its attacks.

According to the Associated Press, at least 20 men and women were killed in the al-Hol refugee camp in northern Syria last month. The killings are largely believed to have been carried out by ISIS fighters who are punishing perceived enemies and trying to intimidate those that might not agree with their extremist ideologies. 

“Al-Hol will be the womb that will give birth to new generations of extremists,” Abdullah Suleiman Ali, a Syrian researcher who focuses on jihadi groups, told AP.

“There are several reasons behind the increase of crime, including attempts by Daesh members to impose their ideology in the camp against civilians who reject it,” Ali added.

The jihadist group has also said it was behind a double suicide bombing at a busy second-hand clothes market in Baghdad last month, which injured more than 100 people and killed at least 32.

It was the biggest suicide attack in Baghdad for three years.

At its peak of power in late 2014, ISIS controlled around 42,400 square miles (110,000 square kilometers) in Iraq and Syria, and eight million people were under its rule.

But while the jihadist group might not have control over territories, their dangerous ideologies remain widespread.

Colonel Wayne Marotto, the global coalition spokesman, told the Times: “We’ve defeated them territorially, but we haven’t defeated them ideology-wise and they are resilient, and right now what they’re doing, it’s almost like an insurgency.”

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Biden faces bipartisan pushback to the airstrikes he ordered in Syria a month into his presidency

Biden
President Joe Biden waves to journalists before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, February 26, 2021.

  • Biden is facing questioning from both sides of the aisle about airstrikes conducted in Syria.
  • Thursday’s airstrikes were conducted against Iran-backed militias in response to recent attacks.
  • Some lawmakers are questioning the legality of the strikes, though others expressed support.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden is facing questions from Congress about his decision to carry out airstrikes against Iran-backed militias in Syria, specifically regarding his authority to conduct this move.

On Thursday, Biden directed airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militias operating just across the Iraqi border in Syria in response to a series of recent attacks against US and coalition forces in Iraq as well as other persistent threats, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The airstrikes came a little over a week after a deadly attack in which a barrage of rockets were fired at coalition forces stationed outside Irbil International Airport, killing a US-led coalition contractor and wounding a US service member, among others.

The retaliatory strike option Biden picked was selected as a “middle” option from among a wide range of possible responses, a senior defense official told Politico. US fighter aircraft dropped 500-pound bombs on a total of seven targets.

The Department of Defense said that Thursday’s airstrikes “destroyed multiple facilities” at a border control point used by Iran-backed militias like Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada and Kait’ib Hezbollah, the latter of which was held responsible for a deadly attack in December 2019 that set in motion events that ultimately triggered a dangerous escalation of tensions with Iran.

The airstrikes were focused on operational infrastructure, the aim being the prevention of future attacks, and were not intended to inflict significant casualties.

The department stated that the strikes, which it considered “proportionate,” sent an “unambiguous message” that “Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel.”

‘Strikes without Congressional authorization’

Tim Kaine
Sen. Tim Kaine speaks during a US Senate Budget Committee hearing regarding wages at large corporations on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, February 25, 2021.

Lawmakers from both parties are openly questioning the legality of the strikes and the general wisdom behind them. 

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that Americans deserve to know the “rationale” for the strikes and the “legal justification without coming to Congress.”

Kaine added: “Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances.”

Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna of California, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, tweeted: “We ran on ending wars, not escalating conflicts in the Middle East. Our foreign policy needs to be rooted in diplomacy & the rule of law, not retaliatory air strikes without Congressional authorization.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who serves as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism, in a statement acknowledged that “the president unquestionably has the right to defend our nation and our forces from imminent attack.”

He argued, though, that such “retaliatory strikes, not necessary to prevent an imminent threat, must fall within the definition of an existing congressional authorization of military force.” Murphy said that Congress should demand “clear legal justifications for military action,” just as it did for past administrations.

And Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, known for being staunchly opposed to intervention, condemned the strike as an attack on “a sovereign nation without authority.”

“What authority does @POTUS have to strike Syria?” Paul tweeted. Pointing to White House press secretary Jen Psaki’s previous questioning on social media of the Trump administration’s military actions in Syria, he suggested someone now ask her the same.

‘Inherent self-defense powers enshrined in our Constitution’

A National Security Council spokesperson told Insider that the White House “had a rigorous process to include legal review of the strikes conducted.”

“The president acted pursuant to inherent self-defense powers enshrined in our Constitution and the UN Charter,” the spokesperson said. “As a matter of domestic law, the President took this action pursuant to his Article II authority to defend US personnel.”

Article II of the US Constitution designates the president as the commander-in-chief of the US military, and multiple administrations have taken actions based on a broad interpretation of this. 

The spokesperson said the strikes were “necessary to address the threat and proportionate to the prior attacks,” and in accordance with the right to self-defense under international law. 

Thursday’s strikes, the first highly publicized military action under Biden, came amid growing calls in Congress for presidential war powers to be reined in, including the president’s authority to use nuclear weapons.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed laws that have offered every president since broad authority to wage war around the world. These laws – the 2001 and 2002 authorizations for use of military force (AUMFs) – paved the way for the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and over the years the 2001 AUMF has been used by multiple presidents to justify at least 41 military operations in 19 countries.

After then-President Donald Trump ordered a controversial drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, in early January 2020, congressional lawmakers from both parties moved to constrain his war powers.

Later that month, the House passed a resolution to repeal the 2002 AUMF, and Kaine sponsored a resolution to prevent Trump from taking military action against Iran without congressional approval that passed in both chambers but was ultimately vetoed

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A Yemeni boy walks past a mural depicting a US drone on December 13, 2013 in the capital Sanaa.

Former President Barack Obama also faced bipartisan disapproval over his approach to counterterrorism, particularly his reliance on drone strikes.

The Obama administration was criticized for conducting drone strikes on dubious legal grounds, taking out suspected terrorists in countries with which the US is not technically at war, such as Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen. Obama also controversially ordered a drone strike that killed a US citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen. 

Though there’s an expanding congressional movement to limit presidential war powers, Biden also received some bipartisan support for the Syria strikes.

For instance, Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House majority leader, argued that the strikes demonstrated Biden’s “resolve to prevent Iran from targeting America’s personnel and allies with impunity,” stating that “it was a strong act that will surely send a message to Tehran that our country will not abide destabilizing actions from its forces or its proxies.”

Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin, among some other GOP members, said that the Biden administration was “right to make clear that attacks on American personnel will not go unanswered.”

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Biden orders airstrikes against infrastructure used by ‘Iranian-backed militant groups’ in Syria

GettyImages 956528932
A F18 Hornet fighter jet prepares to land on the deck of the US navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the eastern Mediterranean Sea on May 8, 2018

  • The US launched airstrikes Thursday night against “Iranian-backed militant groups” in Syria.
  • The Defense Department said the strikes were carried out at the direction of President Joe Biden.
  • The strikes came after rocket attacks targeting US forces in Iraq.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

US President Joe Biden ordered the military to carry out airstrikes against the assets of “Iranian-backed militant groups” in Syria on Thursday evening, the Pentagon said in a statement.

The strikes come after militants last week fired rockets that hit an Iraqi airbase used by the US military. That attack killed a US military contractor and wounded nine others.

The Iranian government supports a number of militant groups in Iraq and Syria and has pledged continued retaliation for the January 2020 killing of its general, Qassim Suleimani. That assassination came after Iraqi militant groups, days earlier, had killed another US military contractor in a rocket attack.

Thursday’s strikes, according to defense officials, were primarily aimed at the militants’ “infrastructure,” not necessarily their personnel.

“Specifically, the strikes destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kait’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS),” the Pentagon said. The groups have deployed in Syria to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of Tehran.

“The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and Coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq.”

The incident comes as the Biden administration is also seeking to engage Iran in diplomacy as part of an effort to restore the 2015 nuclear deal scuttled by former President Donald Trump. Last week, the US State Department said it would attend multiparty talks “to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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