US military aircraft have carried out strikes in eastern Syria against facilities linked to Iran-backed militant groups believed to be responsible for more than a dozen missile and drone attacks on American troops in Iraq and Syria in which 21 soldiers were injured, the military announced on Thursday evening.
“Today, at the direction of President Biden, U.S. forces conducted self-defense strikes on two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
“These precision self-defense strikes are in response to a series of sustained and largely unsuccessful attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iran-backed militia groups that began on October 17,” he said.
“The President has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. personnel, and he ordered today’s action to make clear that the United States will not tolerate such attacks and will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests,” added he added.
The retaliatory measures came at a time of heightened tensions in the Middle East, as the war between Israel and Hamas continued following Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel on October 7, and as the US worried about preventing that conflict from spreading to the rest of the country Region.
“The United States does not seek conflict and has no intention or desire to engage in further hostilities, but these Iranian-backed attacks against U.S. forces are unacceptable and must stop,” Austin continued. “Iran wants to hide its hand and deny its role in these attacks against our forces. We won’t allow that. If attacks by Iran’s proxies against U.S. forces continue, we will not hesitate to take further necessary actions to protect our people.”
America has deployed two aircraft carriers and additional fighter squadrons and air defense systems to the Middle East to deter Iran or Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant group operating in southern Lebanon, from interfering with a major attack on Israel.
Senior U.S. officials have publicly blamed Iran for more than 16 drone and missile attacks on military bases in Iraq and Syria last week, which the U.S. believes were carried out by Iranian-backed militant groups.
According to the latest information from the Pentagon, 21 military personnel were injured. Officials said all of those troops returned to duty after minor injuries or traumatic brain injuries, but an American civilian contractor died of cardiac arrest that occurred during one of the attacks.
On Oct. 19, a U.S. Navy destroyer shot down four intermediate-range missiles and 15 drones that officials said were fired by Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen and that the Pentagon believes may have been aimed at Israel.
American troops in Iraq and Syria are stationed at a handful of bases equipped with weapons systems to prevent missile and drone attacks carried out in the past by Iran-backed militants.
The US has already responded to these attacks with airstrikes on the proxy groups, most recently in March.
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden emphasized that the US reserves the right to retaliate.
“My warning to the Ayatollah [is] “If they continue to act against these troops, we will respond, and he should be prepared,” Biden told reporters, referring to Iran’s supreme leader.
Pentagon officials have also reiterated that the US would not rule out the possibility of a military response.
“I think we have made it abundantly clear that we retain the inherent right to defend our troops and that we will take all necessary measures to protect our forces and our interests abroad when it comes to these groups said Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters Thursday.
Ryder blamed recent attacks in Iraq and Syria on Iran-backed militants and blamed Iran for them, but said he would not announce a possible U.S. military response – “other than to say we would do so immediately.” and place of our choice.”
Amid the unfolding war between Israel and Hamas, the United States has increased its military assets in the Middle East to both support Israel’s response to Hamas and deter other countries such as Iran and its allies, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Sunday ABC “This Week.”
“We are concerned about a possible escalation. “In fact, we see the prospect of a significant escalation in attacks on our troops and our people across the region,” Austin told “This Week” co-host Jonathan Karl.
The US has also sought to allay fears that the war could lead to an escalation not seen in the Middle East in decades.
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran. “We don’t want this war to expand,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Tuesday. “But if Iran or its proxies attack U.S. personnel anywhere, make no mistake: We will defend our people, we will defend our security — quickly and decisively.”