The US military conducted airstrikes against Iranian proxy groups in Syria Thursday in response to a series of attacks against US troops and personnel in the region.
The “self-defense strikes” targeted two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its affiliates and the offensive was authorized by President Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
“These precision self-defense strikes are a response to a series of ongoing and mostly unsuccessful attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed militia groups that began on October 17,” Austin said.
A pair of F-16 fighter jets used precision munitions to hit a weapons storage area and an ammunition storage facility located in Abu Kamal, Syria, near the country’s border with Iraq, according to a senior US military official.
“The people that occupy these locations are Iranian-aligned militia groups as well as IRGC personnel,” the senior US military official said, noting that there were no civilians present at the two facilities hit.
It’s unclear if there were any casualties as a result of the strikes – the first against Iranian proxies in Syria since March 23.
The airstrikes took place after the Pentagon revealed earlier in the day that an unnamed Iran-backed terrorist group launched an attack Thursday on US forces stationed at Erbill Airbase in Iraq.
“As a result of these attacks, one U.S. citizen contractor died from a cardiac incident while sheltering in place; 21 U.S. personnel suffered from minor injuries, but all have since returned to duty,” Austin added.
“The President has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. personnel, and he directed today’s action to make clear that the United States will not tolerate such attacks and will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests.”
Between Oct. 17 and Oct. 26, US and coalition forces have been attacked by drones and rockets at least 19 separate times in Iraq and Syria, according to the Pentagon.
Austin noted that Thursday’s airstrikes were not intended to escalate already simmering tensions in the Middle East while vowing to take further action if attacks on US forces by Iranian proxies continue.
“The United States does not seek conflict and has no intention nor desire to engage in further hostilities, but these Iranian-backed attacks against U.S. forces are unacceptable and must stop,” the defense secretary said.
“Iran wants to hide its hand and deny its role in these attacks against our forces. We will not let them. If attacks by Iran’s proxies against U.S. forces continue, we will not hesitate to take further necessary measures to protect our people,” Austin added.
The top Pentagon official explained that the airstrikes should not be construed as a change in the US approach to Israel’s war against Hamas and are “separate and distinct” from that conflict.
“These narrowly tailored strikes in self-defense were intended solely to protect and defend US personnel in Iraq and Syria. They are separate and distinct from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, and do not constitute a shift in our approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict. We continue to urge all state and non-state entities not to take action that would escalate into a broader regional conflict,” Austin said.
A senior defense official said the US did not coordinate with the Israelis about Thursday’s airstrikes and reiterated Austin’s point that it is “completely different from our support to Israel as it seeks to restore security after the brutal Oct. 7 Hamas attack.”