Joe Biden and his senior defense and national security officials deliberated for ten days on the timing, objective, and extent of his government’s first military attack. Biden’s debut as commander-in-chief in an operation on foreign soil was a matter of the utmost delicacy and could set the tone for his foreign policy for the next four years. It was produced in the Middle East powder keg, after a missile attack on a US military base in northern Iraq by Iranian-backed Shiite militias.
Biden had been in the White House for less than a month and needed to answer to Tehran, in a relationship that is going to be very complicated, between attempts to resuscitate the nuclear agreement from which his predecessor, Donald Trump, and to contain Iran in the region.
You are the owner of the watch said his Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, according to the account of the events that have now revealed ‘The Walls Street Journal’. It was a way of saying that the answer didn’t need to be rushed. After countless meetings, it was determined that the attack would be at dawn on February 25, targeting two targets of Shiite militias in Syria, near the border with Iraq, and at night, to minimize the number of victims.
With the American F-15Es on their way to their targets, just half an hour before the attack, there was a last-minute change. According to the New York newspaper, intelligence information determined that there were women and children in the second of the attack targets.
Biden had to quickly decide whether to call off the attack or keep the operation on the first of the targets. His Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, recommended that he keep the first target. This was done, and the missiles fell on one of the militia bases. One died and two were injured.
“We knew it was the first time that we were going to decide this and that we were going to be under a lot of scrutinies, ” said one of the senior officials who gave details of the deliberations to the ‘Journal’.
In the past two years, attacks by Shiite militias on US bases or facilities of the US-led military coalition in Iraq have been frequent. Following one of them, in which an American contractor was killed, Trump launched a series of airstrikes, such as the one that killed Qassem Soleimani, one of the main leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, early last year, and which strained the maximum relations between Washington and Tehran.
The Biden Administration knew that the Shiite militias would soon test them with attacks, as they eventually did. The intelligence information that arrived half an hour before Biden’s first attack prevented a less favorable outcome for the new president.