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United States military leaders on Thursday threatened a retaliatory strike against Iranian-backed Shia militia in Iraq, saying they know who launched the rockets in Iraq that killed and wounded US and coalition troops.

US President Donald Trump gave the Pentagon the authority to respond after a rocket barrage killed two US troops and a British soldier, again raising tensions with Iran after the two countries came to the brink of war earlier this year.

Military leaders said they know who launched the rockets and the Shia militia group responsible will be held accountable.

“I have spoken with the president. He’s given me the authority to do what we need to do, consistent with his guidance. And, you know – if that becomes the case …” defence chief Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon, adding he and Trump had a “good conversation”.

Asked what he meant, Esper suggested he was not going to telegraph any US response.

Asked if the US response could include strikes inside Iran, Esper said: “I’m not going to take any option off the table right now, but we are focused on the group – groups – that we believe perpetrated this in Iraq.

“We’re going to take this one step at a time, but we’ve got to hold the perpetrators accountable,” Esper said. “You don’t get to shoot at our bases and kill and wound Americans and get away with it.”

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