Pentagon chief: US sending 500 more troops to Germany
Biden called off second military target in Syria minutes before strike: report
President Biden ordered the Pentagon to conduct airstrikes on two targets inside Syria last week but called off the second target 30 minutes before the bombardment, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
Multiple administration officials told the Journal that prior to the strikes, an aide delivered a warning that a woman and several children were spotted in the courtyard of the second target. Two F-15 Strike Eagles that would drop the bombs were already en route when Biden pulled the order to hit the second site.
CNN was the first to report that there were last minute concerns that civilians could be nearby the second site, forcing Biden to scrap the target, according to a U.S. official.
Biden's Feb. 26 order to hit Iran-backed militia groups in eastern Syria, which came after 10 days of deliberations, was his first known use of force as president.
"The president is sending an unambiguous message that he's going to act to protect Americans, and when threats are posed, he has the right to take an action at the time, and in the manner of his choosing," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters after the strike. "He also is going to take those actions in a manner that's deliberative, and that has the objective of de-escalating activity in both Syria and Iraq."
The bombing was in retaliation for rocket attacks targeting U.S. personnel and other interests in Iraq on Feb. 15, but wasn't seeking to escalate tensions with Tehran, senior administration officials told the outlet.
The F-15 Strike Eagles dropped seven precision guided munitions, completely destroying nine facilities and partially destroying two others, after the February attack in Erbil that killed a non-American contractor working with U.S. forces and injured nine people, including six Americans.
A confidential message was also sent to Iran after the U.S. airstrike to convey that the Biden administration didn't want a tit-for-tat response, administration officials said.
In the days after the attack on Erbil, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin advised Biden that he could take time to decide how to respond, according to a second administration official, who participated in the session.
Biden ultimately chose the most conservative option of strikes outside Iraqi territory that took place at night to minimize any casualties. Pentagon officials later said one militia fighter was killed and two injured, though the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 22 militant deaths.
Despite the precautions and careful deliberation, Biden's decision revived a dormant fight over war powers, with Congress arguing that it wasn't adequately consulted on the strikes and questioning where the president drew the authority.
"Last week's airstrikes in Syria show that the executive branch, regardless of party, will continue to stretch its war powers," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who this week helped introduce legislation to repeal the 1991 and 2002 war authorizations, both of which deal with Iraq.
Bipartisan senators say they want to formally take the Gulf and Iraq war authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs) off the books to prevent potential misuse down the line.
Biden's decision also did not appear to quell attacks towards U.S. forces from militia groups, with at least 10 rockets hitting a base housing U.S. and coalition troops in western Iraq on Wednesday.
A U.S. civilian contractor died during the attack after he "suffered a cardiac episode," according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
The White House later said it is considering another military response to the most recent rocket attack.
Psaki said the administration is still assessing who is to blame for the attack but indicated that the "calculated, proportionate" U.S. airstrikes last week "will be our model moving forward."