The Pentagon on Friday detailed the US firepower used to destroy a complex inside Syria that was allegedly used by an Iran-supported militia, as the White House defended the strike’s legality against a bipartisan backlash.
“Two F-15E Strike Eagles dropped seven precision guided munitions, totally destroying nine facilities and partially destroying two facilities, making them functionally destroyed,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at a press conference.
“The structures were located at the Abu Kemal terrorist entry control point, located near the Syria-Iraq border on the Syrian side. This location is known to facilitate Iranian-allied militia group activity.”
A second facility was intended to be hit in President Biden’s first military attack, but that mission was aborted when drones revealed potential civilian casualties, Fox News reports.
Kirby said the US government has not yet determined the number of casualties caused by the seven 500-pound bombs, but he acknowledged local reports of deaths.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, traveling with Biden to Houston, Texas, told reporters aboard Air Force One that Biden had legal authority to order the strike.
Members of both parties in Congress criticized Biden’s decision and noted that in 2017 Psaki criticized then-President Donald Trump for bombing Syria.
She tweeted at the time, “what is the legal authority for strikes? … Syria is a sovereign country.”
Psaki told reporters that Biden ordered the strike to send “an unambiguous message that he’s going to act to protect Americans.”
“As a matter of domestic law, the president took this action pursuant to his Article Two authority to defend U.S. personnel, the targets were chosen to… correspond to the recent attacks on facilities, and to deter the risk of additional attacks over the coming weeks,” Psaki said.
“As a matter of international law, United States acted pursuant to its right to self defense as reflected in Article 50-1 of the UN Charter. The strikes were both necessary to address the threat and proportionate to the prior attacks.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday the strike was in retaliation for a Feb. 15 rocket attack against a US military base at Erbil International Airport in northern Iraq that killed a military contractor and wounded a US soldier.
Under Trump and former President Barack Obama, US military action in Syria was justified under a 2001 military force authorization against al Qaeda and the 2002 legislation allowing for the invasion of Iraq, though opponents said they disagreed that those provisions offer legal grounding.