THE chief of Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah tonight announced a halt to the militia’s attacks on US assets in both Syria and Iraq.
Kata’ib Hezbollah Brigades Secretary-General al-Hamidawi announced the immediate “suspension” of military operations against the US.
He said in a statement: “As we announce the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces – in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government – we will continue to defend our people in Gaza in other ways.”
Instead, al-Hamidawi advised his fighters to engage in “passive defence if any hostile American action occurs towards them”.
The Hezbollah Brigades are a group affiliated with the Hashed al-Shaabi, an alliance of Iran-backed former paramilitary groups now integrated in Iraq’s regular armed forces.
read more on middle east
The US has 45,000 military personnel currently stationed in the Middle East.
There are roughly 2,500 American troops in Iraq and some 900 in Syria – a hangover from the occupation and an attempt to monitor Islamic extremist threats.
The striking announcement followed reports President Joe Biden was considering blitzing targets belonging to the Iran-backed group as he plots a revenge strike for the ambush on the US base that killed three.
Sgt William Rivers, 46, Specialist Kennedy Sanders, 24, and Specialist Breonna Moffett, 23, were killed in the unprecedented attack on the Tower 22 base in Jordan, which injured another 34.
Most read in The Sun
The strike marked the first US deaths by enemy fire since the start of the Israel-Hamas war – a major escalation in the crisis taking hold across the region.
Who are Kata’ib Hezbollah?
KATA’IB Hezbollah is a radical Shiite paramilitary group based in southern Iraq.
Also known as the Hezbollah Brigades, the group was founded in 2007 and has close ties with Hezbollah and Iran’s terrorist army, the Islamist Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The group is also affiliated with the Hashed al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Force), an alliance of Iran-backed former paramilitary groups now integrated into Iraq’s regular armed forces.
With up to 10,000 members, the group has been responsible for attacks on US targets in Iraq and Syria killing hundreds of soldiers.
Its leader Ahmad al-Hamidawi, was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in February 2020.
The Pentagon believes that a drone strike on a US base near the Syria-Jordan border on January 27 that killed three personnel bore the ‘footprints’ of the group.
On Monday, Biden held private meetings with his national security team to discuss the “unacceptable” attack – and officials said they are preparing to hit back with force.
White House national security spokesman, John Kirby, vowed that a “very consequential response” would be carried out.
He ruled out the possibility of directly attacking Iran, stating the US does not want to “escalate” the conflict.
He said: “We do not seek another war. We do not seek to escalate. But we will absolutely do what is required.”
Kirby added that their eventual response will take into account “that these groups, backed by Tehran, have just taken the lives of American troops.”
According to Politico, options include attacking Iranian personnel in Syria or Iraq, or Iranian naval assets in the Persian Gulf.
Prior to the attack on the American base, the US launched a wave of airstrikes last week that specifically targeted Kata’ib Hezbollah as well as other Iran-affiliated groups.
The strikes targeted facilities in Jurf al-Sakhar, south of Baghdad, al-Qaim and another unnamed site in western Iraq.
The attack was a retaliation after a ballistic missile ambush at the American Al-Asad airbase days before which left four US military personnel with traumatic brain injuries.
Defence chief Austin said: “The President and I will not hesitate to take necessary action to defend them and our interests.
“We are fully prepared to take further measures to protect our people and our facilities. We call on these groups and their Iranian sponsors to immediately cease these attacks.”
Meanwhile in the Red Sea, Iran-backed Houthi rebels appear undeterred in their mission to turn its troubled waters into an active warzone.
US and British forces are currently battling to keep the vital shipping lane open under a barrage of missile and drone attacks.
And today, shocking satellite pictures appeared to reveal a secret Iranian base used to train Houthis in how to carry out their maritime raids.
A bombshell report seen by The Sun claims Iran’s warped terrorist army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), trained up hundreds of Houthi recruits.
Since November, the Yemen-based militia have been attacking any ships they deem to have links with Israel in an attempt to avenge Israel’s war in Gaza.
A US-led naval coalition has responded by aggressively patrolling the Red Sea, and American and British forces have struck Houthi military sites across Yemen to keep open the vital trade route.
Four RAF Typhoon jets unleashed laser-guided bombs, while US warships, submarine-launched Tomahawk missiles and fighter jets took out other missile storage sites and launches in a second blitz last week.
It provoked a furious response from the trigger-happy Houthis who vowed that warned the strikes would “not go unanswered and unpunished”.
Tonight, it emerged that Britain is preparing to send an aircraft carrier to the Red Sea to blast Houthi targets in Yemen with F-35 Lightning jets.
Defence minister James Heappey gave a “whopping great clue” that one of the Navy’s two carriers would get orders to steam into battle.
Both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are tied alongside in Portsmouth despite attacks by Iran-backed rebels against cargo ships off the coast of Yemen.
Heappey said the Royal Navy’s most formidable warships weren’t needed while the American carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower was there.
Heappey signalled the UK aircraft carriers were braced to relieve the USS Eisenhower when it needed time in port.
He said: “With the Ike on station – the Eisenhower on station – and with jets available from Akrotiri, that we were able to meet the challenge as it is now.
“That’s not to say that when the Eisenhower goes home, if we were needed to plug a gap in US deployments, or if the situation deteriorates and we need more, that we wouldn’t [send a British carrier].”
Pressed on whether Britain would deploy a carrier, he said: “I’ve given you a whopping great clue in my previous answer.
“The fact is the Eisenhower can’t stay there forever. And so there’s a thing about just maintaining a carrier presence in the region where we might cooperate with the Americans to provide a capability there.”
READ MORE SUN STORIES
The MoD said any carrier deployment would be “based on operational need”.
An MoD spokesperson said: “As the Minister set out, any decision as to whether to deploy the carriers will be made in conjunction with our allies and based on operational need.”