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US kills 5 Iran-backed militia members in drone strike in Iraq

<i>Joshua Roberts/Reuters/File</i><br/>US forces killed at least five Iran-backed militia members in a drone strike in Iraq
Joshua Roberts/Reuters/File
US forces killed at least five Iran-backed militia members in a drone strike in Iraq

By Haley Britzky and Natasha Bertrand, CNN

(CNN) — US forces killed at least five Iran-backed militia members in a drone strike after the US “identified an imminent attack” was likely to be launched by militia forces in Kirkuk, Iraq, on Sunday, a US official said.

It wasn’t immediately clear which group the forces killed on Sunday belonged to.

Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said Monday that the militia members were “preparing to launch a one-way attack drone,” and the US responded with “an armed US uncrewed aerial system killing all five militants and destroying the drone.” Iraqi security forces were notified of the strike, Singh said, and she confirmed the death of the militants and destruction of the drone.

The number of attacks by Iran-backed proxy groups on US and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria has risen to 76 since October 17, a defense official told CNN.

The latest attack occurred on Sunday morning, when a multi-rocket attack was launched against US and coalition forces at Rumalyn Landing Zone, Syria; no infrastructure damage or injuries were reported.

The near-daily attacks on US and coalition forces by Iranian-backed groups began in the weeks following Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7.

The US has responded to these near-daily attacks in recent months by launching strikes in eastern Syria and Iraq, targeting weapons depots and storage facilities being used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxy militia groups.

The US has built up its military presence in the region in an attempt to send a stronger message deterring Iran or other actors from exacerbating the Israel-Hamas conflict and seeing it spread into the region, sending two Carrier Strike Groups, an Amphibious Readiness Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit, and additional ground troops and air defense systems.

The US has also launched several air strikes in Syria and Iraq since October 17, targeting facilities associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its proxy groups.

And while US officials have repeatedly said they believe deterrence is working to contain the conflict between Israel and Hamas, attacks on US assets — as well as commercial vessels — have not appeared to slow.

Iran-backed groups have continued their drone and rocket attacks in Iraq and Syria and launched at least one ballistic missile attack. Last month, the US fired on and killed an unknown number of hostile forces after multiple close-range ballistic missiles were fired at US and coalition forces at Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq.

There have also been a number of drone and ballistic missile attacks on ships. On Sunday, the USS Carney, an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer, shot down at least three drones in the southern Red Sea from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Carney also responded to distress calls from commercial vessels in the area who were attacked by ballistic missiles.

Singh said Monday that the current assessment is the Carney was not the intended target of the drones, though she added that the drones “came close enough” that the Carney’s commander “felt that it was a threat and needed to engage and shoot down” the drones.

On Friday, the Carney shot down a drone from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen heading in the direction of the ship, and a week ago, two ballistic missiles were fired toward the USS Mason in the Gulf of Aden.

A press release from US Central Command on Sunday made clear that while the attacks were launched by Houthis in Yemen, the US has “every reason to believe that these attacks … are fully enabled by Iran.”

“The United States will consider all appropriate responses in full coordination with its international allies and partners,” the release said.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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