Recently confirmed Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he recommended the airstrike in Syria Thursday night that targeted the militia supported by Iran that attacked Americans earlier this month in Iraq.
The reported death toll ranged from one to more than a dozen people in the attack on buildings in Syria operated by the Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, that was authorized by President Joe Biden. The U.S. military maintains that the Iraqi militia is responsible for killing a civilian contractor and injuring one American soldier as well as other troops in a missile attack on Feb 15.
Austin told the Associated Press Thursday night that he always intended to retaliate against the militia.
“We said a number of times that we will respond on our timeline,” Austin said. “We wanted to be sure of the connectivity and we wanted to be sure that we had the right targets.”
He said he had no doubt that airstrike accomplished what was intended.
“I’m confident in the target that we went after, we know what we hit,” Austin also said while flying with reporters following the airstrike. He said it was “the same Shia militants that conducted the [Feb. 15] strikes.”
Austin told the New York Times the strategy was “deliberate” based on information from allies.
“We allowed and encouraged the Iraqis to investigate and develop intelligence and it was very helpful to us in refining the target,” Austin said.
The military maneuvering was the latest indication that Austin, the first Black person to lead the Pentagon, had dived headfirst into his historic role.
Aside from the airstrike in Syria and aiming to withdraw troops in Afghanistan, Austin has also been busy trying to fix things back at home.
He was recently compelled to confront sex assaults in the military after a member of the Marines released an emotional video claiming her assailant was allowed to remain in the armed forces. After learning of the video, which he called “disturbing,” Austin ordered an evaluation of military sex assault prevention programs.
“This starts with me and you can count on me getting after this on Day One,” Austin said last month.
Sex assaults were not the only scourge Austin is trying to rid the military of.
Austin also signed a 60-day military “stand down” in order to properly address extremism and white supremacy in the armed forces.
“We will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies,” the memo sent by Austin to senior Pentagon leadership said in part.
Austin has also taken steps to address the reported hesitancy among military members to get vaccinated to protect against the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps specifically speaking to Black servicemen and women, Austin said he understood the doubts but also emphasized trusting science.
“Because of some things that have happened in the past, there’s a degree of mistrust, and I think we have to collectively work hard to dispel rumors and to provide facts to people,” Austin said about the initiative to increase vaccinations in the military. “It’s been my experience that when armed with the facts, people will tend to make the right decisions.”
However, he stressed that getting vaccinated was a choice.
“These are individual decisions,” Austin said. “We want to make sure that they have the best information available to make those decisions.”