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U.S. retaliation began soon after the dignified transfer of soldiers killed in Jordan


President Biden was at Dover Air Force Base this afternoon, part of the solemn ritual of the dignified transfer of remains of U.S. service members killed overseas. He'd vowed that the U.S. would respond to the drone attack in Jordan that killed the three reservists from Georgia. And a few hours later, that response began. Senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us now to tell us more. Hi, Tam.


MCCAMMON: So, Tam, we're seeing now these U.S. strikes in Iraq and in Syria, as announced by the Pentagon. But what is the white House saying about it?

KEITH: In a statement, President Biden said that the drone strike that killed those American reservists was launched by militant groups backed by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC. Thus, he said this afternoon, at his direction, the U.S. military struck facilities in Iraq and Syria that the IRGC and affiliated militia used to launch attacks on U.S.' forces. And he said that while the response began today, quote, "it will continue at a time and place of our choosing." Biden also reiterated something that he said earlier this week, that he does not seek a wider conflict in the Middle East, but that attacks on U.S. troops can't go unanswered.

And we should note here that while the strike last week killed three Americans, it was not a one-off. There have been more than 150 attacks and attempted attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East since the October 7 Hamas attacks in Israel. And the U.S. has recently done some targeted strikes against militant groups, but this was significantly more widespread and goes after Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and not just its proxies.

MCCAMMON: So the White House says it's trying to avoid a wider conflict, but this is, as you just said, more widespread. What do we know about this operation and its targets so far?

KEITH: Well, in a briefing that the White House just wrapped up, they told us that seven facilities were hit, which included 85 different targets. They employed aircraft from Central Command, based in the Middle East, but also B-1 bombers that flew all the way from the United States. Four of the targets were in Syria, three were in Iraq. And they said that the targets were chosen to avoid civilian casualties. They took place over 30 minutes. They were chosen to hit facilities and capabilities that have been used to target American troops in the region. They did say the Iraqi government was informed beforehand of the strikes, but I will add, that does not mean that they're going to be happy about it. I asked White House National Security spokesman John Kirby what message these targets were intended to send.


JOHN KIRBY: The attacks have to stop. And these targets were chosen because, as I said in my opening statement, all these facilities were connected to and being used by the IRGC and their proxy groups to conduct attacks on U.S. personnel in the region.

KEITH: When I asked Kirby how this sort of strike was meant to avoid a wider war in the Middle East, he said that going after targets that are used to attack Americans in the region was an effort to de-escalate, which is a bit counterintuitive. But the idea there is, if they lose their ability to strike the U.S., the U.S. would not have a reason to strike back.

MCCAMMON: You've noted, Tam, the president says this will continue. What might that mean?

KEITH: Well, we can't know for sure because they have been pretty careful not to telegraph specific plans. The briefers wouldn't engage when asked about possible cyberattacks or other less visible methods of degrading this group - these groups. But Kirby was quite clear, while the responses began tonight, they are not going to end tonight.

MCCAMMON: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.