By Carla Babb
U.S. forces have struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated groups during the early morning hours of Friday.
“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,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
A senior military official told reporters two F-16s used precision munitions against a weapons storage facility and an ammunition storage facility near Abu Kamal. Officials could not say at this time whether there were any casualties during the attacks.
“We hit precisely what we aimed at,” the official said.
Attacks on US forces
Another senior military official said U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria now have been attacked with drones or rockets at least 19 times in recent days. VOA has confirmed 17 of these attacks.
Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the attacks, told VOA that a drone landed on al-Harir Air Base Irbil but did not explode.
Hours later, another drone exploded outside the base in Irbil, causing no injuries or damage, according to the officials.
Another attack on Thursday was reported in northeastern Syria, with two rounds of indirect fire near a base in al-Shaddadi, Syria, an official told VOA.
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder reiterated previous comments blaming Iranian-backed proxies for the near daily attacks on U.S. forces.
“We know that these are Iranian-backed militia groups that are supported by Iran and, of course, we hold Iran responsible for these groups,” Ryder said.
A senior defense official told reporters that the strikes were in defense of U.S. forces in the region and were not connected to any U.S. support to Israel.
“What you saw us demonstrate is readiness to take military action to defend our forces, and we’re ready to do it again,” the senior defense official said.
Officials have raised concerns about the prospect of “more significant escalation” against U.S. military forces and personnel in the region from Iranian proxy groups.
The attacks have resulted in 17 minor injuries to Americans in Syria and four minor injuries to American personnel in Iraq, with U.S. officials continuing to monitor any potential traumatic brain injuries, Ryder said.
One U.S. contractor at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering in place during a false alarm for an air attack and died.
In addition to the three attacks on Thursday, officials say three rockets targeted a base that houses U.S. forces near Kharab al-Jir, Syria, on Wednesday, causing no injuries.
At least 13 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria occurred between Oct. 17 and Oct. 23, the Pentagon announced on Tuesday.
US increasing protection in region
About 900 troops have either deployed or are in process of deploying from the United States to the Middle East to increase force protection. These units include a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, battery from Fort Bliss, Patriot batteries from Fort Sill, and Patriot and Avenger batteries from Fort Liberty.
Austin placed an undisclosed number of troops on prepare-to-deploy orders on Saturday.
These moves come after Austin had placed more than 2,000 military personnel on heightened alert with a prepare-to-deploy order earlier last week.