Sullivan says U.S. retaliatory strikes in Middle East 'not the end of it'

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White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday confirmed the United States “intends” to launch additional strikes and action against Iranian-backed groups following its two rounds of strikes over the weekend in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The U.S. military began its first round of airstrikes on Iranian-backed groups in Syria and Iraq last Friday in response to an attack on a base in Jordan last week that killed three American troops and injured about 40 others.

The U.S. and Britain launched a separate wave of strikes the next day against Houthi rebels — which are also backed by Iran — in Yemen.

Sullivan, in an interview with NBC News’s “Meet The Press,” said President Biden’s order for a “serious response” is “now underway.”

“It began with strikes on Friday night but that is not the end of it. We intend to take additional strikes and additional action to continue to send a clear message that that the United States will respond when our forces are attacked, or people are killed,” Sullivan told NBC News anchor Kristin Welker.

Asked if the weekend retaliatory strikes successfully hit the intended targets, Sullivan said U.S. forces are still assessing the number of casualties among the militia groups.

“We do believe that the strikes had good effect and degrading capability to these militant groups that attacked us,” he said. “And we do believe that as we continue, we will be able to continue to send a strong message about the United States [and it’s] firm resolve to respond when our forces are attacked.”

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) last Friday said over 85 targets were hit in the first round of strikes in Iraq and Syria against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force “and affiliated militia groups.”

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the goal of the strikes is to halt attacks and empathized the U.S. is “not looking for a war with Iran.”

The second round of strikes, conducted by the U.S. and the United Kingdom on Saturday with fighter jets and ships, were aimed at 13 locations associated with the Iran-backed Houthis’ weapons storage facilities, missile systems, air defense systems and radars, the Pentagon said.

The rebel group has launched a series of missile or drone attacks against commercial and military ships in the Red Sea in recent months, disrupting trade routes and destabilizing the region against the backdrop of Israel’s war with Palestinian militant group Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group also backed by Iran.

Sullivan declined to say if the U.S. would launch strikes directly in Iran, stating it would “not be wise” for him to discuss what the U.S. is “ruling in and ruling out.”

Houthi rebel officials on Sunday vowed to push forward with their military operations and respond to the latest set of strikes.

Ameen Hayyan, a spokesman for the group, said Sunday on X, formerly Twitter, that the latest U.S. and U.K. attacks “will not deter us from our moral, religious and humanitarian stance” in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. 

The rebel group has claimed it is hitting Israeli-linked ships, but Sullivan said Sunday that the Houthis are attacking shipping “that has absolutely nothing to do with Israel.”

U.S. officials said last week U.S. troops have come under fire from various Iranian-backed groups over 160 times since last October.

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