19 killed in US strikes on Iran-linked groups in Syria: new toll
The death toll from US strikes on Iran-linked groups in Syria has risen to 19 after a deadly drone attack, a war monitor said on Saturday, as Washington insisted it was not seeking conflict with Tehran.
More rocket attacks by Iranian-backed militias occurred late Friday, prompting more strikes by coalition planes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Washington carried out the initial strikes after the Pentagon said a US contractor was killed — and another contractor and five military personnel were injured — by a drone “of Iranian origin” that hit a US-led coalition base near Hasakeh in the northeast of Syria on Thursday. .
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, at the direction of President Joe Biden, said he had ordered “round-the-clock air strikes… in eastern Syria against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps”.
On Saturday, the British-based Observatory, which has a wide network of sources on the ground, said 19 people were killed in the first wave of US strikes: three soldiers from the Syrian regime and 16 members of Iranian-backed forces. including 11 Syrian nationals. .
After the strikes, Biden sought to lower the temperature by saying that the United States “is not seeking conflict with Iran, but is prepared to act strongly to protect our people.”
– More rocket attacks –
Hours after the strikes, 10 rockets were fired by American and coalition forces at the Green Village base in northeastern Syria, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said.
There were no injuries or damage to facilities at the base, but one rocket hit a house about five kilometers (three miles) away, injuring two women and two children, CENTCOM added.
Iran-backed militias later on Friday targeted a base in the Conoco gas field, prompting retaliatory strikes by coalition warplanes on targets in Deir Ezzor City, the Observatory said.
The war monitor said rocket fire then targeted coalition facilities at the base of the Al-Omar oil field and east of Deir Ezzor, causing “material damage”.
A “cautious calm” returned to the Deir Ezzor area early on Saturday morning, the Observatory said.
Militias affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have a heavy presence across Syria, particularly around the border with Iraq, and south of the Euphrates in Deir Ezzor province, where the latest US strikes have taken place.
The United States has about 900 troops in positions across northeastern Syria to keep pressure on remnants of the Islamic State group and support the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which control most of the northeast.
The Pentagon said the retaliatory attack was launched by two F-15 fighters — which spokesman Pat Ryder said were to protect US personnel.
The strikes were meant to “send a very clear message that we take the protection of our personnel seriously and that we will respond quickly and decisively if they are threatened,” he said.
They were “proportionate and deliberate action aimed at limiting the risk of escalation to minimize casualties,” he said.
– ‘Always answer’ –
US personnel in Syria have often been targeted in attacks by militia groups the US says are backed by Tehran.
Two of the injured US service members were treated at the scene on Thursday, and the other three troops and one US contractor were evacuated to Iraq, the Pentagon said.
“We will always take whatever action is necessary to protect our people and we will always respond at a time and place of our choosing,” said CENTCOM Chief Michael Kurilla.
In January, the US military said that three drones had launched one-way attacks against the Al-Tanf garrison in Syria, and that one breached its air defenses and injured two Syrian-allied fighters.
Last August, Biden ordered similar retaliatory strikes in Deir Ezzor province after several drones targeted a coalition base, causing no casualties.
“We know that these groups are sponsored by Iran,” said Ryder.
“So Iran certainly has a role to play in terms of making sure this type of activity doesn’t happen,” he said.