The US military has taken a number of retaliatory actions after multiple close-range ballistic missiles were launched against US and coalition forces at Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq on Monday evening.
A US military aircraft – an AC-130 gunship – had responded immediately to the attack, firing on a vehicle and killing a yet unknown hostile forces, a US official told CNN on Tuesday. Later in the day, US Central Command announced that the US had also launched precision airstrikes on two facilities used by the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group in Iraq.
Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said Tuesday that the attack by Iranian-backed militants resulted in “several non-serious injuries and some minor damage to infrastructure.” It marked, according to Singh, the first time that a ballistic missile was used since attacks on US and coalition forces began on October 17.
Two US officials said the US AC-130 gunship, which is capable of firing artillery at ground-based targets, was acting in defense.
US Central Command said Tuesday evening that the airstrikes were “in direct response to the attacks against U.S. and Coalition forces by Iran and Iran-backed groups, including the one in Iraq on November 21, which involved use of close-range ballistic missiles.”
A defense official added that the facilities – an operations center and command and control node near Al Anbar and Jurf al Saqr, Iraq, south of Baghdad – were used by Kataib Hezbollah to “support recent attacks on US and coalition bases in Iraq and Syria.”
“Initial evaluation of the strikes indicate that US forces successfully destroyed the intended facilities. Additionally, we can confirm the presence of Kataib Hezbollah personnel,” the official said. “We’re unable to provide a casualty assessment at this time.”
At least eight Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah fighters were killed and four other wounded following the US strikes, the group said in a statement.
“The crime of the American bombing of the Popular Mobilization Forces headquarters at dawn today, in which eight people became martyrs, will not go unpunished, which requires expanding the scope of targets if the enemy continues its criminal approach,” the statement said.
The Iraqi government also issued a statement on Wednesday, condemning the airstrikes as a violation of its sovereignty.
Government spokesman Bassem al-Awadi declared the strikes were conducted “without the knowledge of Iraqi government agencies” and deemed them an “unacceptable violation.” However, al-Awadi also criticized the Iran-backed groups for their actions, emphasizing that any “armed action or activity outside the military institution is deemed condemnable and an unlawful endeavor that jeopardizes the national interest.”
While the strikes are the first in Iraq since attacks on US and coalition forces began, they are the fourth US strike against targets associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps since the attacks started on October 17.
The first strike occurred on October 26 when an F-15 fighter and two F-16 fighter jets targeted two weapons and ammunition storage facilities in Abu Kamal, Syria. Then on November 8, two F-15s carried out an airstrike on a weapons storage facility in eastern Syria. On November 12, the US carried out more airstrikes on a training facility and a safe house affiliated with the IRGC.
As of Tuesday there have been at least 66 attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria since October 17, including several on forces at Al-Asad. Earlier in the day on Monday before the ballistic missile attack, a US official said a one-way drone attack was also launched against forces at Al-Asad, which resulted in no casualties or infrastructure damage.
As of last week, at least 56 US troops had sustained minor injuries in the attacks since October 17 — at least 25 of them being traumatic brain injuries — and all had since returned to duty.
It’s unclear if an AC-130 has been used to respond to attacks in this way since October 17, though a US official said the US has returned fire on hostile forces multiple times.
“We have had other cases where we have responded in retaliation when we were able to identify the point of origin,” Singh said.
The attacks on US and coalition forces started after Hamas’ attack on Israel, and the Pentagon has maintained that the US has been successful in deterring any escalatory actions that would expand the conflict outside of Israel and Gaza despite the continued attacks on US forces.
“Is deterrence working? We feel that it is,” Singh told reporters last week. “We have not seen this war spread into a wider regional conflict. We have … conducted three different strikes. We responded most recently this weekend. And again, we will always reserve the right to respond at a time and place of our choosing in the future.”
This headline and story have been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali contributed reporting.
For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com