WASHINGTON – Iran-backed terrorists launched two more attacks on US and allied troops in Syria over the weekend, according to officials Monday — as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Saudi Arabia in his latest Mideast tour to try to stop the Israel-Gaza conflict from growing.
Iranian proxy militias fired two rockets at Syria’s Mission Support Site Euphrates, targeting US and coalition forces stationed there, on Saturday, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.
The next day, Tehran-backed groups launched an attack drone at Mission Support Site Green Village, also in Syria, but it “landed several kilometers” from the military base, Ryder said.
No injuries or damage was reported in either weekend attack, which were the latest in a series of more than 165 Iran-backed assaults on US forces in Syria, Iraq and Jordan since Oct. 17, according to the Pentagon.
As of Jan. 29, approximately 80 US personnel have been injured in the spate of attacks over the past three and a half months, deputy Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said at the time.
The first and only US troop deaths so far occurred Jan. 27, when three American soldiers were killed in an attack on a secret military outpost in Jordan called “Tower 22.”
Saturday’s attack in Syria came a day after US military aircraft including B-1 bombers fired “more than 125 precision-guided munitions over the course of roughly 30 minutes” in a retaliatory mission avenging the three soldier’s deaths, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday.
That mission targeted the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Tehran-backed militias – including Kataib Hezbollah – responsible for the fatal attack on US forces, as well as a branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps specializing in military intelligence and unconventional warfare.
Members of the IRI are believed to have been involved in the weekend attacks, which came just days after Katib Hezbollah announced Jan. 30 it would cease its attacks on American forces in the region following Washington’s earlier pledge to carry out the retaliatory strikes.
At the time, senior White House and Pentagon officials cautioned the public not to take the Kataib Hezbollah’s word at face value, encouraging the public to “watch their actions, not their words.”
While US Central Command continues assessing its strikes’ success, Ryder said Pentagon officials “currently assess that we had good effects, and that the strikes destroyed or functionally damaged more than 80 targets at the seven facilities” targeted Friday afternoon.
But Ryder’s positive outlook on the strike’s effectiveness comes has been balanced by the continued assaults on US forces.
Asked to explain the Defense Department’s optimistic early assessment of its impacts despite its failure to deter further enemy attacks, the spokesman said there are early indications that the airstrikes degraded some enemy capabilities.
Citing CENTCOM’s ongoing assessment, Ryder declined to provide an early estimate of the number of enemies killed or wounded in the US airstrikes. He said it is safe to assume at least some were killed.
“I think it is fair to conclude that there likely were casualties associated with these strikes,” he said.
As Blinken in Saudi Arabia pushed the Biden administration’s message that it does not seek war with Iran or other escalation in the Middle East conflict, Ryder pedaled the same point to reporters at the Pentagon.
Still, he said that additional US strikes can be expected in defense of American troops, who are based in the region to fight the Islamic State – which so far is not believed to have been involved in the recent attacks.
“Our goal is not, ‘OK, game on, let’s just do this and go [to] full scale war against Iranian proxy groups in Iraq and Syria’ – that’s not what we’re there for,” he said. “We’re there to conduct the mission in support of the defeat of ISIS.”
Though the US troops in the region are focused on ISIS, Ryder said service members at the targeted bases are authorized to hunt down any group that attacks them.
“Our forces will always maintain the inherent right of self defense,” he said. “So if they need to take appropriate actions to defend themselves, they will, and you’ve seen us do that in the past.”