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The U.S. hit over 85 Iran-linked targets in retaliatory strikes

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And we begin this hour with the retaliatory strikes at sites in Iraq and Syria. Those strikes occurred yesterday at the direction of President Biden. And they come in the wake of an attack that killed three U.S. Army reservists in Jordan. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman joins us now. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

SIMON: The reservists were in Jordan, the strikes in Iraq and Syria. But safe to say, it's all about Iran, isn't it? What about the sites hit yesterday?

BOWMAN: Well, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that seven locations of Iranian-backed militias and also Iranian Revolutionary Guards were hit by American bombers and other war planes. The locations were in Iraq and Syria - more than 85 targets in all - airstrikes that lasted roughly a half hour or so. And then, Scott, there was a wide array of targets - command and control centers, headquarters buildings, intelligence centers, missile and drone sites, storage facilities, logistics, ammunition - again, quite a few.

And we're told the targets were chosen to avoid civilian casualties, but they don't know yet how many militants were killed or wounded. Officials say all the targets were connected to attacks on U.S. personnel in the region, including, of course, as you mentioned, the three soldiers from Georgia killed last weekend at a remote base in Jordan by a suicide drone. The Iraqi government, by the way, was informed beforehand. But, of course, they're pretty upset about airstrikes on their territory.

SIMON: U.S. military officials have talked about this being what they call a multi-tiered response. What does that mean?

BOWMAN: In - well, John Kirby told reporters in that call yesterday, it will not end tonight. And we could see more strikes in the coming days - I'm told, Scott, as early as tonight. Last night's airstrikes included B-1 bombers flown all the way from the United States and other Air Force warplanes from the region. And I think we'll likely see maybe Navy aircraft flown tonight - as early as tonight - from the carrier. So we'll see what happens. But again, this is going to go on for quite some time.

SIMON: Tom, I know you've been talking to a range of voices on this, including a former military official who said that after three U.S. soldiers were killed, the U.S. needed to respond with, I guess, what they called a new level of force - to hit back very hard. Is this it?

BOWMAN: Oh, this is definitely it. And I know White House officials told lawmakers on Capitol Hill earlier this week they wanted a step or two up from what they called whack-a-mole strikes that, you know, we've seen in recent weeks where you would hit a facility here or there. So this could go on, again, for some time.

And among the options, Scott, are also cyberattacks, which, of course, are very sensitive. And we may not get any sense of those types of attacks. But if they're significant enough, it may become apparent, or word may leak out. Now, some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are pushing for even stronger airstrikes. Some Republicans are saying, listen. You have to hit Iran itself - its military locations in Iran, as well as its leadership. But I don't think we'll see anything quite like that.

SIMON: Tom, the White House said after these initial strikes that the United States does not see conflict - a wider conflict - in the Middle East - one of the reasons, as you cited, for avoiding attacks for the moment, at least on Iranian soil. But the conflict does seem to be widening. What concerns does the United States have? What precautions is it trying to take?

BOWMAN: Well, you know, the United States officials have repeatedly said, we don't want to widen this conflict. But if you look at what happened last night, I mean, how do you square that? I know they've said repeatedly, we're not looking to expand the conflict. We just want these attacks on U.S. troops in the region to stop. But now you are hitting not only multiple targets of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, so you're hitting Iranian military personnel, not just militias. So these U.S. action could themselves lead, Scott, to a spiraling of military action from others that the administration says it really wants to avoid.

SIMON: NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

BOWMAN: 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.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Tom Bowman
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.