US carries out airstrikes on Iran-linked groups in Syria after attack on base
OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) – U.S. resident Joe Biden said Friday the U.S. would respond “strongly” to protect its personnel after U.S. forces launched airstrikes on sites in Syria used by groups affiliated with with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard following a suspected Iran-related attack. Thursday that killed a US contractor and wounded seven other Americans in northeastern Syria.
“The United States does not … seek conflict with Iran,” Biden said in Ottawa, Canada, where he is on a state visit. But he said Iran and its proxies should be prepared for the United States to “act aggressively to protect our people. That’s exactly what happened last night.” Activists said the US bombing killed at least four people.
While this is not the first time the US and Iran have traded strikes in Syria, the attacks and the US response threaten to undermine recent efforts to reduce tensions across the wider Middle East, which has competing powers have taken steps towards détente in recent days after many years. disturbance.
The Pentagon said a drone attack on a US base on Thursday killed a contractor and injured five US troops and another contractor. That was followed by two simultaneous attacks on US forces in Syria on Friday, according to US officials.
The officials said, based on preliminary information, that there was a rocket attack on Friday at the Conoco plant, and one US service member was injured but is in stable condition. At about the same time, several drones were launched at Green Village, where US troops are also based. One official said all but one of the drones were shot down, and there were no US casualties. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.
Two Syrian opposition activist groups reported a new wave of airstrikes in eastern Syria that hit Iranian-backed militia positions after a rocket fired at a Conoco gas plant housing American troops. However, some US officials said the US had not launched any attacks late Friday, and it was unclear whether the activists were referring to the attack on US forces at Green Village.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the American intelligence community had determined that the drone in Thursday’s attack was of Iranian origin. US officials said that conclusion was based on recovered debris and threat intelligence streams. They offered no immediate evidence to support the claim. The drone hit a maintenance facility at a coalition base in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasaka.
A US contractor was killed and six other Americans were killed in Syria on Thursday in a strike by a suspected Iranian-made drone.
US forces responded with airstrikes, the Pentagon said. https://t.co/bnN48dcjkl pic.twitter.com/uqh9dvf3Bm
— The Associated Press (@AP) March 24, 2023
In a statement, the Pentagon said F-15 fighter jets flying out of al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar hit several locations around Deir el-Zour. Those strikes, Austin said, were in response to the drone attack “as well as a series of recent attacks against coalition forces in Syria” by groups affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard.
Biden, speaking during a press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, expressed his “heartfelt condolences” to the family of the American who was killed and his best wishes to the injured.
Iran relies on a network of proxy forces through the Middle East to counter the US and Israel, its regional enemy. US forces have been in northeastern Syria since 2015, when they were deployed as part of the fight against the Islamic State group, and maintain about 900 troops there, working with Kurdish forces who control about a third of Syria.
Overnight, videos on social media purported to show explosions in Deir el-Zour, a strategic province bordering Iraq with oil fields. Militant groups from Iran and Syrian forces control the area, which Israel has seen suspected airstrikes in recent months allegedly targeting Iranian supply routes.
Reports of the number of people killed and injured in the US strikes varied. The activist group Deir Ezzor 24, which covers news in the province, said four people were killed and several others injured. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said 11 Iranian-backed fighters were killed – including six at an arms depot in the Harabesh neighborhood of the city of Deir el-Zour and five at military posts near the towns of Mayadeen and Boukamal.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Observatory, said three rockets were fired earlier Friday at the al-Omar oil field in Deir el-Zour where US troops are stationed, in apparent retaliation for the American strikes.
The Associated Press could not immediately independently confirm the activists’ reports. Iran and Syria did not immediately acknowledge the strikes, and their officials at the United Nations in New York did not respond to AP requests for comment.
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is suspected of carrying out attacks with bomb-carrying drones across the Middle East in general.
The exchange of strikes came as Saudi Arabia and Iran worked towards reopening embassies in each other’s countries. The kingdom also acknowledged efforts to reopen the Saudi embassy in Syria, where Iran has backed President Bashar Assad in his country’s long war.
US Army Gen. Erik Kurilla, the top US commander for the Middle East, warned that his forces could carry out additional strikes if necessary. “We are in a position of scalable options against any further attacks from Iran,” Kurilla said in a statement.
On Thursday, Kurilla warned Congress during a hearing that “Today’s Iran is exponentially more capable militarily than it was even five years ago.” He cited Iran’s arsenal of ballistic missiles and bomb-carrying drones.
“What Iran does to hide its hand is they use Iranian proxies,” Kurilla said.
According to officials, Iran has launched 80 attacks against US forces and locations in Iraq and Syria since January 2021. The vast majority of those were in Syria.
#BREAKING: The US launches airstrikes against Iran’s IRGC and affiliated targets in Syria because of an earlier Iranian-affiliated drone strike that killed one US contractor and injured five soldiers.
At first everyone thought that the attack was from Israel.
US service members… pic.twitter.com/zD8kkREKpG
— Mario Nawfal (@MarioNawfal) March 24, 2023
Diplomacy to de-escalate the exchange seemed to have begun immediately. Qatar’s foreign minister spoke by phone with US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan as well as Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the Qatari state news agency reported. Doha has recently been a mediator between Iran and the United States amid tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The United States under Biden has previously struck Syria due to tensions with Iran – in February and June 2021, as well as in August 2022.
Dareen Khalifa, a senior Syria analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, said Thursday’s exchange of strikes comes at a politically sensitive time because of the “complete deterioration of US-Iranian relations and the stalling of the nuclear talks ,” she said. a significant increase is not expected.
“These tit-for-tat strikes have been going on for a long time,” Khalifa said, though she noted that they usually do not result in casualties.
Since the US drone strike that killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in 2020, Iran has tried to “make life difficult for US forces stationed east of the Euphrates,” said Hamidreza Azizi, an expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
“Iran has increased its support for local proxies in Deir el-Zour as it seeks to engage with the tribal forces in the area,” Azizi wrote in a recent analysis.
The strikes come during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The Syrian war began with the 2011 Arab Spring protests that shook the wider Middle East and affected governments in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. It has become a regional proxy conflict in which Russia and Iran have turned on Assad. The United Nations estimates that over 300,000 civilians have been killed in the war. Those figures do not include soldiers and insurgents killed in the conflict; their number is believed to be in the tens of thousands.