President Biden issued a stern warning, saying, “Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing. Let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: If you harm an American, we will respond.” This statement underscores a commitment to a sustained and strategic response, rather than a singular retaliatory act.
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, noted that the selected targets were chosen meticulously to minimize civilian casualties and were based on definitive evidence linking them to attacks on US personnel in the region. However, he refrained from disclosing the specifics of this evidence.
Here is what you need to know about Kataib Hezbollah, the group blamed for killing US troops:
Kataib Hezbollah, or the Hezbollah Brigades, is an Iran-backed Iraqi militia group that has been accused of launching a drone strike in Jordan that killed three US soldiers on January 28, 2024.
The group is one of the most powerful and secretive factions within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella organization of mostly Shia armed groups that fought against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq with the support of Iran and the US.
Kataib Hezbollah was founded in 2007 by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a veteran Iraqi militant who was close to Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani. Both men were killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad in January 2020, sparking a major escalation of tensions between the US and Iran.
The group’s ideology is based on the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih, or the Guardianship of the Jurist, which grants Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei the ultimate authority over all Shia Muslims. The group also follows the teachings of Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which is also backed by Iran and has fought against Israel and the US.
The US has designated Kataib Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization since 2009 and has imposed sanctions on its leaders and members.
The group has denied any involvement in some of the attacks and has accused the US of violating Iraq’s sovereignty and supporting IS and Israel. The group has also vowed to continue its resistance against the US and its allies until they leave Iraq and the region.
The group’s current leader is Abu Fadak al-Mohammadawi, who succeeded al-Muhandis after his death. He is also the deputy head of the PMF, which is formally part of the Iraqi security forces but operates with a high degree of autonomy and influence.
The group’s size and structure are not clear, but it is estimated to have thousands of fighters and a network of cells and supporters across Iraq and beyond. The group also has access to a variety of weapons, including rockets, mortars, drones, and explosives.
Though it does not publicly confirm or deny links, the group is widely seen to have fielded a political party for the first time in 2021 elections in Iraq, winning several seats in parliament.
Kataib Hezbollah has been involved in several attacks against US forces and interests in Iraq and the region, as well as against Sunni and Kurdish groups that it considers enemies. The group has also deployed fighters to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad’s regime against the rebels.
Some of the notable attacks attributed to Kataib Hezbollah include:
– In June 2011, the group claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on a US base near Baghdad that killed six US soldiers and wounded 14 others.
– In December 2019, the group fired more than 30 rockets at a US base in Kirkuk, killing a US contractor and wounding four US soldiers and two Iraqi soldiers.
– In March 2020, the group launched another rocket attack on a US base in Taji, killing two US soldiers and one British soldier and wounding 14 others.
– In January 2021, the group claimed responsibility for a twin suicide bombing in Baghdad that killed at least 32 people and wounded more than 100 others, the deadliest attack in the city in three years.
– In January 2024, the group, along with other PMF factions, claimed responsibility for a drone strike on a US base in Jordan, near the Syrian border, that killed three US soldiers and wounded dozens more.
(With inputs from agencies)