U.S. Strikes Against Iranian Targets Coming

The Secretary of Defense has outlined the parameters.

BBC (“US approves plan to strike Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq, officials say“):

The US has approved plans for a series of strikes on Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq, officials have told the BBC’s US partner CBS News.

The strikes will take place over a number of days, officials said, and weather conditions will likely dictate when they are launched.

It comes after a drone attack killed three US soldiers in Jordan, close to the Syrian border, on Sunday.
The US blamed an Iranian-backed militia group for that attack.

That group, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, is believed to contain multiple militias that have been armed, funded and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards force. It has said it was responsible for Sunday’s strike.

Iran, meanwhile, has denied any role in the attack which injured 41 other US troops at the military base, known as Tower 22.

US officials have said that US intelligence believes that the drone used to attack the facility was manufactured by Iran – and is similar to the drones Iran has been sending to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

At a news conference on Thursday, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin defended the delayed military response, saying: “We will respond where we choose, when we choose and how we choose.”

“I think everyone recognises the challenge associated with making sure that we hold the right people accountable,” he said, adding that there is no “set formula for doing this”.

“There are ways to manage this so it doesn’t spiral out of control. And that’s been our focus throughout,” Mr Austin continued.

The officials who spoke to CBS News did not give an exact timeline on the potential strikes. They said the US military could launch them in bad weather, but preferred to have better visibility to reduce the risk of inadvertently hitting civilians.

President Joe Biden has been under mounting pressure from Republican lawmakers, including some of Washington’s most hawkish voices on Iran, to strike targets on Iranian soil.

But while the US has repeatedly pledged to respond to the drone attack, Mr Biden and other defence officials have said Washington is not seeking a wider war with Iran or an escalation of tensions in the region.

“That’s not what I’m looking for,” Mr Biden told reporters at the White House earlier this week.
The reportedly approved plans appear to keep the targeting to Iranian targets Syria and Iraq, rather than inside Iran.

AP (“US hints large response to Iran-backed militias is imminent as Houthi rebels target another ship“):

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday it’s time to further disable Iran-backed militias that have struck at U.S. forces and ships in the Middle East and the U.S. is preparing to take significant action in response to the deaths of three U.S. service members in Jordan.

For days the U.S. has hinted strikes are imminent. While the threat of retaliation for Sunday’s deaths has driven some militant groups to say they were stopping hostilities, as late as Thursday Yemen’s Houthi rebels were still attacking vessels and fired a ballistic missile at a Liberian-flagged container ship in the Red Sea.

“At this point, it’s time to take away even more capability than we’ve taken in the past,” Austin said Thursday in his first press conference since he was hospitalized on Jan. 1 due to complications from prostate cancer treatment.

Previous U.S. strikes have not deterred the attacks. Since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out in October, Iranian-backed militant groups have struck U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria at least 166 times with rockets, missiles and one-way attack drones, drawing about a half-dozen U.S. counterstrikes on militant facilities in both countries. The U.S. military also has carried out airstrikes targeting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The U.S. has attributed the attack on Tower 22 in Jordan to the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iran-backed militias that includes the militant group Kataib Hezbollah.

While Iran has denied involvement, Austin said Thursday that “how much Iran knew or didn’t know, we don’t know. But it really doesn’t matter because Iran sponsors these groups.”

Austin said “without that facilitation, these kinds of things don’t happen.” He said the Pentagon is still looking at the forensics of the drone that struck Tower 22, a secretive base in northeastern Jordan that’s been crucial to the American presence in neighboring Syria.

“I don’t think the adversaries are of a ‘one and done’ mindset. And so they have a lot of capability. I have a lot more,” Austin said. “We’re going to do what’s necessary to protect our troops.”

While it’s good to know that our forthcoming response to Iran-sponsored attacks on US forces will be calibrated to avoid escalation—which, frankly, I had presumed—I’m baffled at holding press conferences to discuss forthcoming military action.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Military Affairs, National Security, World Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Slugger says:

    Child of the Sixties here. I recall that Robert McNamara engaged in tit-for-tat escalations against a determined foe that resulted in an ignominious defeat for the USA. We need to avoid that mistake. All in or nothing might be a better military strategy. We need clear and deep thinking. Our leadership must avoid starting wars to gain a parochial political advantage.
    I’m ok with destroying Houthi naval infrastructure. I think that can be done without a war against the Houthi people that Saudi Arabia is not winning.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    Iran needs to be hurt directly, not just their proxies. I don’t like playing the other guy’s game that way. I’m not saying nuke Teheran, but the Ayatollahs should be reminded that shit-stirring can be dangerous.

  3. JohnMc says:

    Agree with Slugger above, that political leaders plotting targets has a terrible record and should be avoided. Reading the post it occurred that the weapon probably was what the Ukraian commentaries call a Shahed. A Delta wing, piston engine kamikaze drone manufactured in Iran. Plenty of blackmailed western electronics are commonly found when the UAF dissects them. There are lots of ways we could make those much more rare and precious.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s an interesting historical contemplation: if, at the start of a war, one side could ratchet things up to where they’d be by the end of the war, would the shock have changed the outcome? The first battle of Bull Run inflicted about 4500 casualties on the two sides, injuries and deaths. Gettysburg resulted in ten times that many. Seeing that the war would/could be that bloody, would either side in 1860 have stepped back?

    What if the immediate response to Pearl Harbor had been Hiroshima? Another way of asking, if people could get a preview of just how awful a war would get, would we have fewer wars, or just the same? The Japanese in the late 30’s and 40’s were not thinking in terms of American occupation as the end stage. OTOH, if you told the Japanese people they were going to lose and their cities would be burned, but within a couple decades of the end of the war the Japanese people would be infinitely richer than they’d ever been before?

  5. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    So you’re asking “what if hindsight were foresight?”

    I don’t think that’s how time travel works.

    BTW, the immediate response to Pearl harbor was the Doolittle Raid. Yes, it took four and a half months to get done, but it’s not as though the US Navy had US Army Air Corps medium bombers already on their carriers.

    And granted it was nowhere as destructive or effective as the Japanese attack on 7th December. But the US showed that early in the war it could attack the Japanese Home Islands, while Japan would never really manage any kind of strike on the US mainland.

  6. JKB says:

    The real escalation is being buried by the media. The original US strikes on Yemen were not in response to missiles shot at shipping but due one targeting a US warship.

    And now we have this first combat use of Phalanx by a US warship to take out enemy fire.

    A Houthi anti-ship missile got within a nautical mile of the Navy destroyer Gravely on Tuesday, and the warship used its Phalanx Close-In Weapons System to take the missile out, a senior defense official has confirmed to Navy Times.

  7. Andy says:

    The announcements and leaks are incredibly frustrating to me. There’s already a bunch of open-source reporting that likely targets have dispersed and are making preparations.

    As I said a couple of days ago, I can only hope that this is part of a deception operation to flood the zone, but DC being what it is, I suspect that it is instead the usual courtiers playing their usual games. But then the administration is making announcements, telegraphing the punch pretty clearly.

    Personally, I doubt very much we will directly strike Iran. The unfortunate reality of us having scattered forces in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere is that they are vulnerable to Iranian counter-strikes. Pulling our forces out of these vulnerable positions would be a big indicator of a major conflict with Iran, and so far, it doesn’t look like we are doing that.

  8. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Andy: Maybe this doesn’t work the way we think it works. They have done other strikes at other times without an announcement, and the response to the announcement is likely to be predictable. ‘

    I mean, It is odd. I just don’t think the Biden Administration is dumb enough, or hyperfocused on domestic politics enough to do this out of blindness or obsessiveness. So it’s something else…

  9. gVOR10 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It’s an interesting historical contemplation: if, at the start of a war, one side could ratchet things up to where they’d be by the end of the war, would the shock have changed the outcome?

    It’s been a long time since I read Jeffrey Record’s A War It Was Always Going To Lose. It’s a detailed history of the Japanese decision to start a war with the U. S., a war they knew they couldn’t win. IIRC he sees them as rational players facing what they saw as a Hobson’s choice. I think it was also an example of short term politics trumping long term considerations, of the power of rationalization, and of the dynamic David Halberstom identified in The Best and the Brightest, that no one wanted to be the guy at the table who might appear weak by saying, “Umh, wait a minute.”

    Would they start the war if they knew the consequences? In historical examples neither side was able to demonstrate the horrors they could impose until they’d had a few years of mobilization. My reading of the beginnings of the Civil War and the World Wars would suggest that if they all knew the outcome, both sides would have kept moving toward war waiting for the other guy to chicken out first.

    However, MAD, Mutual Assured Destruction, demonstrated and known well before things came to a head, has worked. So far.

  10. gVOR10 says:

    @JKB: The guys sitting there in his bathrobe!? Stereotype much?

  11. Michael Reynolds says:


    My reading of the beginnings of the Civil War and the World Wars would suggest that if they all knew the outcome, both sides would have kept moving toward war waiting for the other guy to chicken out first.

    Yep, that’s probably true. I used to think that it was largely a male thing, the inability to take a step back, and think things through. Masculine belligerency and chest-beating, like silverback gorillas performing. Sadly, no, women seem no more sensible than men. See: Maggie Thatcher, Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boebert, and an army of Karens. Gender-neutral assholery.

  12. steve says:

    Announcing this in a press conference was weird. Agree on that. Can only assume it was part of sending a message but not sure to whom.


  13. Scott says:

    @JKB: Buried by media? It was on CNN and a half dozen other sites along with a bunch of military sites describing the Phalanx weapon system.

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    What do you make of the much commented-upon posting of six KC-135s and at least a few B-52’s to the region?

  15. Gustopher says:


    I’m ok with destroying Houthi naval infrastructure.

    When we are done there will be no Houthi aircraft carriers left floating.

    Ok, seriously though, there isn’t a lot of naval infrastructure there. They are a few steps above Somali pirates* because they have some cheap drones, and small craft and weapons are quick, mobile and deadly enough to have a major impact.

    It’s the equivalent of guerrilla warfare, but on the water. Not exactly, but closer to that than having significant naval infrastructure.

    *: no shade to Somali pirates. They are very effective and haven’t over-invested in technology. Somali pirates are the type of fast and nimble organizations, doing more with less, that business leaders have been praising for decades.

  16. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Hard to say. There are also rumors of B-1s heading over, deploying, or launching for actual strikes too.

    Part of the problem is that whenever there is a situation like this, people start looking for “signs” and inevitably find some, even when they might not actually exist. We humans immediately start looking for patterns to confirm what we want to see.

    In many of these cases, people look for indications that something is happening and interpret normal operating patterns as evidence that something is afoot. Is six KC-135s unusual? No one in the open source community outside of a handful of geeky plane watchers who pay regular attention to KC-135 operating patterns has the requisite background and historical information to judge if that is unusual. I am not one of the geeky plane watchers, so I can’t say one way or the other.

    That said, moving a bunch of tankers over would not at all be surprising, especially if this is going to be more of an extended air campaign and not a night or two of raids.

  17. MarkedMan says:


    political leaders plotting targets has a terrible record and should be avoided

    There are problems with the “let the Generals call the shots” mode too:

    MacArthur thwarted Truman’s attempt to negotiate a ceasefire when the general ordered his troops to invade North Korea and push the NKPA up past the 38th parallel. This was not the first time the general had ignored direct orders from his Commander in Chief. On April 11, 1951, President Truman officially relieved Douglas MacArthur of his command.

  18. MarkedMan says:


    There’s already a bunch of open-source reporting that likely targets have dispersed and are making preparations.

    Hmm. Wouldn’t that mean that there mind is focused on other things, and their networks disrupted, at least for a short time? It will be interesting to see what we do over the next 1-5 days…

    Or maybe we are doing the old thieves trick of setting off the burglar alarm so often that they start ignoring it?

  19. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Michael Reynolds: No, women are not generally pacifists any more than men are. I think it’s likely that women have a bit higher threshold for “violence is needed” than men do on average. But we aren’t talking about averages. Maggie Thatcher, for instance, had to convince people she was prepared to employ violence to defend the UK, so she probably deliberately lowered her threshold – either that, or she had that lower threshold all along, and this just ended up getting selected for by the political process.

    I will note that on a personal level, violence is generally not a good option for a woman, who is likely to be smaller and weaker than a generic man. I know more than a few women, though, who have trained at martial arts and who could seriously mess someone up if it ever got to that point.

    Women have traditionally have been trained to think of themselves as incapable of violence, but that really doesn’t reflect reality. In the dojo, we tried to show them some situations where some measured violence might be useful, and also that they *did* have the ability to overcome a physical assault. The first time they realize that they can do something even if I or some other man is trying to stop them, it’s like a light bulb turning on. It’s rare to do that for a man, but it does happen.

  20. Andy says:


    Hmm. Wouldn’t that mean that there mind is focused on other things, and their networks disrupted, at least for a short time?

    Well, let’s hope that’s not actually the strategy here.

  21. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    If Iran had hit the US directly, that would be appropriate. However they did not, and and refrained from doing so. Likewise, throughout our war in Iraq there were constant mini-wars with the Iranian backed militias and both sides refrained from escalation.

    Furthermore, this constant pointing at Iran ignores these militias have been operating in Iraq for over a decade and somehow nobody points even a little finger at anyone but Iran. Fact is we have had a mutual enemy in ISIS with the Shiite militias all along.

    I suspect the intention of warning these militias is to give the civis a chance to separate themselves. We will not benefit from the images of dead babies, not anymore than the Israelis are now.

  22. Bnut says:

    They have telegraphed nothing. Turning the lights on to see where the roaches run to before tossing out the poison is what I feel is playing out, all that SIGINT coming our way.

  23. Andy says:

    CENTCOM announced the attacks have begun.

    At 4:00 p.m. (EST) Feb. 02, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) forces conducted airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated militia groups. U.S. military forces struck more than 85 targets, with numerous aircraft to include long-range bombers flown from United States. The airstrikes employed more than 125 precision munitions. The facilities that were struck included command and control operations centers, intelligence centers, rockets, and missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicle storages, and logistics and munition supply chain facilities of militia groups and their IRGC sponsors who facilitated attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces.

  24. Kathy says:
  25. Andy says:
  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    When I was in restaurant work I kept trying to get waitresses to be more careful about safety. I hate being a man warning women to be careful of men, I don’t like offering the gift of fear. On the other hand, my wife was walking home from waiting tables in Annapolis long, long ago, and was jumped, just a block from our home, by a guy with a gun. Presumably rape was on the menu. Katherine screamed and pretended to faint, becoming dead weight. The guy pistol-whipped her and ran off. My landlord and I both heard her screams and ran outside, but he was gone.

    Images you don’t forget: your wife with blood running down her face.

  27. JohnMc says:

    @MarkedMan: we agree

  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    Two things were predictable: Republicans would say, ‘more!’ and so would I. I’m of the ‘they bring a knife, you bring a gun’ school. Cooler heads prevailed. One of so very many reasons why it’s a good thing I’m not president.

  29. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    We in the cheap seats can indulge in absolutes but the people who have to make the calls can’t.

    Trying to sort out the black hats from the white hats in this is a hell of a deal. One one hand we hate ISIS, so do the Iranians. On the other we are allies with our NATO pals Turkey, but they fund the rebellion against Assad in Syria, so that puts Turkey on the same side as ISIS…and ourselves. We are against Assad and the current gubmint of Syria, but they are fighting ISIS. In fact ISIS still controls most of the Idib province. We are allied with the gubmit of Iraq, but they are funded and supported by Iran. Iraq tolerates both these militias and most of their members are Iraqi…but we label them Iranian. At the same time has Iraq has encouraged our military presence in their country…and everybody know which side they will have to take in a full out war between Iran and the US…and it ain’t ours.

    It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world, per the Kinks.

  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    Americans are not psychologically prepared for Middle East politics. We think in binaries. Good guys, bad guys, and the ME is nothing but shades-of-gray guys.