Johnson criticizes 'excessive signaling' as US begins strikes in Iraq, Syria

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Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) criticized the Biden administration for what he called a slow response to the attack on a U.S. base in Jordan that killed three American service members, as Capitol Hill reacted Friday night to the first set of retaliatory U.S. strikes on Iranian-linked militia groups in the Middle East.

“The tragic deaths of three U.S. troops in Jordan, perpetrated by Iran-backed militias, demanded a clear and forceful response. Unfortunately, the administration waited for a week and telegraphed to the world, including to Iran, the nature of our response,” Johnson said in a statement.

“The public handwringing and excessive signaling undercuts our ability to put a decisive end to the barrage of attacks endured over the past few months,” he added.

The U.S. military announced earlier Friday that the Biden administration had carried out an initial round of airstrikes in retaliation for last weekend’s attack in Jordan, employing “more than 125 precision munitions” at multiples sites in Iraq and Syria. 

The strikes targeted sites connected to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force and affiliated groups. Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was confident the strikes damaged military capabilities.

“We hit exactly what we meant to hit,” Sims said. “We confidently struck targets that will impact their ability to conduct future strikes against Americans.”

Democrats praised the initial strikes as a justified response to a deadly attack on American troops, even as the extent of the damage was not immediately clear.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) called the strikes “a strong, proportional response” to an attack that killed three Americans and wounded dozens more.

“In fact, the 85 targets struck tonight mark a greater number than the prior administration,” he said, referring to the Trump administration, adding the strikes amounted to a “significant blow” to Iranian proxy forces in Iraq and Syria.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) called it a “good first step” in an appearance on CNN, noting President Biden was seeking to “thread the needle” by retaliating for the death of American troops without escalating the conflict into a broader war with Tehran.

For their part, Republicans in both chambers were quick to pan the strikes, which came five days after Biden first pledged to respond to the suicide drone attack at the military base in Jordan known as Tower 22.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) posted on social media that the administration’s response to recent attacks in the Middle East “has been disastrous to the point of being dangerous,” adding the U.S. instead should look to sink “Iranian spy ships” and consider reimposing oil and gas sanctions.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said during an appearance on Fox News on Friday night that the strikes would likely be a “tactical success” but he cast doubt on whether they would achieve any “strategic success.”

“Simply put, one example: We let Iran’s leaders hightail it back to Iran from Syria and Iraq, so I suspect we did not kill many key Iranian leaders in these regions,” he said.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) echoed in a statement that the administration “spent nearly a week foolishly telegraphing U.S. intentions to our adversaries, giving them time to relocate and hide.” 

Biden earlier in the week spoke with the families of the service members killed and on Friday attended the ceremony in which the troops’ remains were returned to the U.S., called a dignified transfer, at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. 

The strikes are the first in what U.S. officials have described as a tiered response to Iranian-backed militias. The end-of-week strikes also came after U.S. officials told some news outlets this week that weather was one factor in the timing of the strikes.

Biden said in a statement earlier Friday that America’s response “will continue at times and places of our choosing.”

“We do not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else, but the president and I will not tolerate attacks on American forces,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.

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