Report: Biden called off a second Syria airstrike last week

Last week, President Joe Biden called off an airstrike in Syria after intelligence revealed last-minute that there was a woman and some children at the site, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

After 10 days of deliberations, Biden had ordered the Pentagon to conduct airstrikes on two Iranian-supported militia targets in Syria on February 26, according to the report, in his first known use of force.

However, according to battlefield reconnaissance delivered about 30 minutes before the bombs were set to drop, a woman and a couple of children were in the courtyard at one of the sites. With the F-15Es en route to the targets, the president bailed on the second target but let the strike on the first target go ahead.

Biden was highly criticized by both the political left and right for the airstrike carried out.

The goal of the airstrike was to signal to Iran that the new White House team would respond to a February 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq against the U.S.-led coalition but wasn’t aiming to escalate a confrontation with Tehran, senior administration officials reportedly told The Journal, describing the days leading to the strike in interviews with the newspaper.

RELATED: Rocket strike reported near U.S. Embassy in Baghdad

To reinforce the point, a confidential message was sent to Tehran after the U.S. airstrike, administration officials said, though without providing details, according to the newspaper.

“We had a pretty coordinated diplomatic and military plan here,” one administration official reportedly said. “We made sure the Iranians knew what our intent was.”

Another major goal was to avoid undermining the political position of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, whom Washington sees as a partner in the fight against Islamic State and would likely have faced criticism at home if the attacks had occurred on Iraqi soil, the officials reportedly added.

From the start, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the only senior member of Biden’s cabinet with military experience, reassured the president that he could take his time to decide how to respond militarily, according to The Journal.

“You own the clock,” Austin reportedly advised Biden in the White House meeting immediately following the attack in Erbil, a second administration official who participated in the session told the newspaper.

The president tried to justify the strike the day after it, arguing in a letter to Congress that it was necessary for defending U.S. troops.

Those non-state militia groups were involved in recent attacks against United States and Coalition personnel in Iraq,” Biden wrote, citing the February 15 attack as an example.

“These groups are also engaged in ongoing planning for future such attacks,” he added.

“In response, I directed this military action to protect and defend our personnel and our partners against these attacks and future such attacks,” Biden continued.

“The United States always stands ready to take necessary and proportionate action in self-defense, including when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory by non-state militia groups responsible for such attacks.

“I directed this military action consistent with my responsibility to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad and in furtherance of United States national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct United States foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.”

READ THE FULL ORIGINAL WALL STREET JOURNAL REPORT HERE.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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