The windows blew open. The building shook. At 1:30 a.m. local time Friday, a resident of al-Bukamal, a city near the Syrian-Iraqi border, was jarred from his sleep. Speaking under the condition of anonymity for security reasons, he told CNN the explosions were unlike anything he had heard before.
What he likely heard was the sound of seven 500-pound bombs slamming into a compound near the border. According to the Pentagon, the compound was used by two Iranian-affiliated Iraqi militias, Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid Al-Shuhada.
Before-and-after satellite images released by Maxar Technologies, a space technology company, vividly show how much destruction those bombs wrought.
The “before” image shows a compound, just over a third of a kilometer (about 370 yards) from the Iraqi border, containing around a dozen buildings of various sizes. In the “after” image, almost all the buildings have been destroyed, and the blasts blacken the dirt in and around the compound.
The Pentagon says the strike was intended as a US response to recent rocket and mortar attacks on US and coalition positions in Iraq. On February 15, a volley of rockets fell within the grounds of Erbil’s international airport and in residential parts of the city, killing a contractor while wounding several US personnel and Iraqi civilians. In Baghdad, the Green Zone, where the American embassy is located, has been a frequent target for mortar and rocket fire. Kata’ib Hezbollah has repeatedly denied any involvement in these attacks and did so again in a Friday statement.
Pentagon officials told CNN the compound it targeted was not linked to these attacks. Still, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he was “confident” used by the same militias targeting the US and coalition forces in Iraq with rocket attacks.
The armed groups allegedly using it, Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid Al-Shuhada, are just two of a myriad of militias that came to prominence during the war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, filling the void left by an Iraqi army that was in full retreat.