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Dozens killed, injured in retaliatory U.S. airstrikes targeting Iran-backed militias

President Joe Biden watches as a U.S. Army carry team carries the transfer case containing the body of of Army Sgt. Kennedy Sanders during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday.The United States launched airstrikes in Syria and Iraq Friday in retaliation for the killing of the U.S. soldiers last Sunday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Feb. 2 (UPI) -- U.S. airstrikes targeting Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq launched Friday killed at least 39 people and injured dozens more, according to Iraqi officials and non-governmental observers.

Sixteen people, including an unnamed number of civilians, were killed and 25 others were injured in the U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, Iraqi government spokesman, Basem Al-Awadi said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the attacks claimed 13 lives in Al-Mayadeen and 10 more in the rural Deir Ezzor countryside in Syria, the London-based Syria Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The U.S. airstrikes came as a retaliatory blow after three American soldiers were killed and more than 40 other U.S. troops were wounded in a drone attack in Jordan near the border with Iraq and Syria last weekend.

Officials blame Iran-backed militants for the strike, while Iran has denied any connection.

A U.S. Army carry team carries the transfer case containing the body of Army Sgt. Breonna Moffett during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
A U.S. Army carry team carries the transfer case containing the body of Army Sgt. Breonna Moffett during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Iraq's Al-Awadi said there was no coordination between Iraq and the United States prior to Friday's deadly strikes.

"The American administration has carried out a new act of aggression against Iraq's sovereignty," he said. "In this incident, multiple American aircraft bombed locations in the Akashat and Al-Qa'im regions, including areas where our security forces are stationed alongside nearby civilian places."

President Joe Biden (L-R), first lady Jill Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stand during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
President Joe Biden (L-R), first lady Jill Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stand during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

The Iraqi army condemned the strikes in Iraqi border areas as a "violation of Iraqi sovereignty" and "a threat that will drag Iraq and the region into unforeseen consequences."

In Damascus, the Syrian foreign ministry denounced the strikes, saying in a statement issued Saturday they violated the country's "sovereignty, territorial integrity and the safety of its people" while threatening peace and security in the region,

President Joe Biden and others, including members Congress, attended a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
President Joe Biden and others, including members Congress, attended a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday's actions are "the start of our response" to the Jordan attack, confirming strikes were carried out on seven facilities which included more than 85 targets in Iraq and Syria used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps "and affiliated militias use to attack U.S. forces."

President Joe Biden, he said, "has directed additional actions to hold the IRGC and affiliated militias accountable for their attacks on U.S. and Coalition Forces. These will unfold at times and places of our choosing.

President Joe Biden watches as a U.S. Army carry team carries the transfer case containing the body of Army Sgt. Kennedy Sanders during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
President Joe Biden watches as a U.S. Army carry team carries the transfer case containing the body of Army Sgt. Kennedy Sanders during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

"We do not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else, but the President and I will not tolerate attacks on American forces. We will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our forces, and our interests," Austin said.

Biden announced the strikes earlier Friday after he attended the dignified transfer of the three soldiers killed in the Jordan attack.

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., attends a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., attends a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Issuing a warning to "those who might seek to do us harm," he said, "Know this: If you harm an American, we will respond."

In a post on X, the U.S. Central Command said the airstrikes employed more than 125 precision munitions.

A U.S. Army carry team salutes as a transfer case carrying the remains of Army Sgt. Kennedy Sanders is loaded into a transfer vehicle during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
A U.S. Army carry team salutes as a transfer case carrying the remains of Army Sgt. Kennedy Sanders is loaded into a transfer vehicle during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

"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," the social-media post stated.

Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers were used in the airstrikes.

A U.S. Army carry team salutes as the transfer vehicle carrying the remains of Army Sgt. Kennedy Sanders, Army Sgt. William Rivers and Army Sgt. Breonna Moffett prepares to depart during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
A U.S. Army carry team salutes as the transfer vehicle carrying the remains of Army Sgt. Kennedy Sanders, Army Sgt. William Rivers and Army Sgt. Breonna Moffett prepares to depart during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del., on Friday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson criticized the Biden administration's timing of the strikes as "telegraphing" a response to Iran.

"The tragic deaths of three U.S. troops in Jordan, perpetrated by Iran-backed militias, demanded a clear and forceful response. Unfortunately, the administration waited for a week and telegraphed to the world, including to Iran, the nature of our response," Johnson said.

Sims said U.S. forces had been waiting for favorable weather, and "good weather presented itself today."

In a CNN report, Sims said, "Initial indications are we hit exactly what we meant to hit," adding that U.S. officials expect casualties to be reported.