“Be careful,” the US President, Joe Biden warned Iran following a US airstrike that destroyed parts of a compound used by Iranian-backed militias as they travel between Syria and Iraq.
“You can’t act with impunity,” Biden told reporters in Houston, when asked what message he was trying to send Tehran by ordering the airstrike, carried out late Thursday, that hit a compound in Boukamal, on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq.
“Be careful,” he added.
The president’s comments — coming nearly 24 hours after two US F-15 Eagles dropped seven precision-guided bombs, destroying nine facilities and severely damaging two others — were his first about the strike, which has become the subject of a political debate in the US.
Administration officials spent much of the day defending the strike, arguing it was necessary to protect American forces in the region following a series of rocket attacks, including two in the past two weeks in Irbil and Baghdad.
1 killed in the rocket attack
While the Katyusha rocket attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone caused only limited damage, the attack outside Irbil International Airport, in northern Iraq, killed a contractor for the US-led coalition and injured nine others.
Some members of Biden’s own political party, however, voiced concern that the president may have gone too far by ordering a retaliatory strike.
“The American people deserve to hear the administration’s rationale for these strikes and its legal justification for acting without coming to Congress,” Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, said in a statement.
“Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances,” he added.
Officials at the White House and the Pentagon quickly pushed back, arguing Biden was well within his rights, citing the attacks in Irbil and Baghdad while hinting more militia attacks were likely.
“When threats are posed, he has the right to take any action at the time and in the manner of his choosing,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters accompanying the president on a trip to Houston.