US said to plan 'multi-tiered' retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin says US will respond when and where it chooses

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin also apologised for keeping his recent cancer diagnosis hidden from President Joe Biden. AP
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Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday that the US will take “all necessary actions” to defend itself and its interests and suggested that expected strikes against Iran-backed militias would involve several targets.

“We will have a multi-tiered response,” Mr Austin told reporters. “We have the ability to respond of a number of times, depending on what the situation is.”

Plans have been approved for a series of retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria potentially over several days, CBS News reported, without citing its source.

Mr Austin's comments came after three US soldiers were killed in an attack by Iran-backed militia groups in Jordan.

President Joe Biden “will not tolerate attacks on American troops and neither will I”, he said. “Our teammates were killed by radical militias backed by Iran and operating inside Syria and Iraq.”

As to the recent announcement by Kataib Hezbollah, one of the groups believed to be behind the attack in Jordan, that it was ending military operations against US forces, Mr Austin said: “We always listen to what people are saying, But we watch what they do. And again actions are everything. So we’ll see what happens in the future.”

He added that US adversaries do not have a “one-and-done mindset”, suggesting he expected militant attacks to continue.

“They have a lot of capability. I have a lot more,” he said.

He said Kataib Hezbollah and "other elements" continue to attack US troops.

"I think, at this point, it's time to take away even more capability than we've taken in the past."

Describing “a dangerous moment in the Middle East,” Mr Austin blasted “terrorist groups backed by Iran and funded by Iran” who have tried to create even more turmoil in the region.

Gaza children recount being stuck under rubble

Gaza children recount being stuck under rubble

When asked about the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza, where health officials say more than 27,000 people have been killed, Mr Austin said he speaks to his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant every week and emphasises the importance of protecting civilian lives and providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians.

“But I will continue to emphasise, and I know will Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken and President [Joe] Biden will continue to emphasise, the importance of addressing the issue of the Palestinian people,” he said.

“You know, we’re doing more, but we’re not doing enough.”

It was Mr Austin's first press conference since he was taken to hospital on January 1 for complications stemming from treatment for prostate cancer.

He apologised for failing to tell Mr Biden and senior staff about his recent prostate cancer diagnosis ahead of time and added that the health scare was a “gut punch” that had shaken him.

“We did not handle this right and I did not handle this right. I should have told the President about my cancer diagnosis. I take full responsibility,” Mr Austin said.

“The news shook me. Frankly, my first instinct was to keep it private.”

He said that going forward, he would be a better example for men, particularly black men, who experience higher rates of prostate cancer, to talk candidly about the disease.

On Wednesday, Mr Austin hosted his British counterpart Grant Shapps at the Pentagon for talks on security threats in the Middle East.

The UK has twice assisted the US in striking Houthi targets in Yemen.

The two defence chiefs discussed issues including “the escalating attacks by Iran-aligned militia groups on US troops in the Middle East” and “the illegal Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea”, as well as humanitarian assistance for Gaza and support for Ukraine, Pentagon spokesman Maj Gen Pat Ryder said in a statement.

Updated: February 02, 2024, 5:51 AM