There have been ongoing drone and rocket attacks on U.S. forces in recent weeks, leading to a second series of retaliatory airstrikes in eastern Syria.
Early Thursday, the United States conducted airstrikes against a facility utilized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and its proxies in eastern Syria for the second time in almost two weeks. This escalation in retaliation comes in response to a continuous series of rocket and drone attacks targeting American forces in Iraq and Syria.
Two Air Force F-15E jets carried out strikes on a weapons warehouse in Deir al Zour Province, Syria. These strikes occurred after previous U.S. airstrikes on October 27, targeting similar sites in eastern Syria, proved ineffective in deterring Iran or its proxies in Syria and Iraq. The Biden administration has attributed the attacks to them.
The attacks have not only persisted, with at least 22 more occurring since the U.S. retaliatory strikes last month, but Pentagon officials have noted an escalation in their danger. According to U.S. officials, Iran-backed militias have increased the payload of explosives on drones to over 80 pounds, which are being launched at American bases.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III stated in a release, “This precise act of self-defense is a reaction to a sequence of assaults on U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria by affiliates of the I.R.G.C.-Quds Force. The safety of U.S. personnel holds the utmost priority for the president, and he ordered today’s action to emphatically convey that the United States is committed to defending itself, its personnel, and its interests.”
“We are fully ready to implement additional essential actions to safeguard our people and facilities,” he added. “We advise against any escalation.”
The airstrikes occurred following the Pentagon’s announcement that an MQ-9 Reaper surveillance drone of the U.S. military was downed over the Red Sea near the coast of Yemen on Wednesday, an act attributed to Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
The shooting down of the MQ-9 drone, a key component of the U.S. military’s aerial surveillance fleet, marks a further escalation of hostilities between the United States and Iran-backed groups in the region. This incident highlights the potential risks of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas evolving into a broader and more extensive war.
Biden administration officials have been strategizing on how to prevent Iranian-backed Shiite militias from targeting American troops in the region without provoking a more extensive conflict. Three administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning, revealed this information.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken stated in Iraq on Sunday, “The attacks and threats originating from militias aligned with Iran are completely unacceptable.”
The Pentagon reported on Wednesday that there have been a minimum of 41 attacks on U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq since October 17. In these incidents, at least 46 U.S. service members have sustained injuries, with 25 of them suffering from traumatic brain injuries. The United States currently maintains 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria, primarily deployed to assist local forces in combating the remnants of the Islamic State.
During discussions to identify targets, U.S. officials aim to anticipate the potential responses to each strike, as shared by one official. According to two officials, military officials at the Pentagon’s Central Command and within the American intelligence community possess a substantial understanding of the locations of many militia leaders. Over the past two weeks, they have also contemplated the potential repercussions if targeted airstrikes were to result in the death of these leaders.
The officials acknowledged that the endeavor to fine-tune retaliation is imprecise. Following the strike on the weapons warehouse early Thursday, a senior Pentagon official informed reporters that the objective was to “disrupt and degrade” the capabilities of the militias in order to impede their ability to carry out attacks against American troops.
However, Pentagon officials clarified that the strike was executed late at night in Syria, minimizing the likelihood of hitting any Iranian personnel or militia fighters.
The Biden administration employs a “deconfliction” line with Russia to mitigate escalation in Iraq and Syria, as disclosed by two officials. Given that Russia has troops in Syria, American officials anticipate that informing Russia before a strike, as was done prior to the latest U.S. strike, is equivalent to notifying Iran. This is because Russian officials frequently communicate information about upcoming events to Tehran.
Certain congressional Republicans have expressed criticism towards the administration, asserting that the U.S. response to the consistent attacks by Iran-backed militias has been inadequate.
Representative Michael Waltz, a Republican from Florida and a former Army Green Beret, stated in a post on X after the recent airstrikes, “Pinprick strikes against ammo dumps in the desert won’t have any impact on preventing Iran from attacking our troops.”
Since Hamas’s unexpected attack against Israel on October 7, the United States has been repositioning military assets to mitigate the risk of a regional war.
The United States has taken measures to address the situation by deploying one aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean, near Israel, and another currently moving south in the Red Sea. Additionally, dozens of extra warplanes have been dispatched to the Persian Gulf region. To enhance defense capabilities, the Pentagon has hastily sent additional Patriot antimissile batteries and other air defenses to various Gulf nations, aiming to safeguard U.S. troops and bases in the region.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has consistently vowed to eradicate Israel and expel U.S. military forces from the region. Leaders of militant groups in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Gaza perceive Mr. Khamenei as a formidable ally, frequently seeking his counsel and consulting with him on strategic matters.
Despite the frequent use of fiery rhetoric from Tehran, U.S. officials evaluate that Israel’s adversaries are not actively pursuing a broader war.
Christine S. Abizaid, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, informed a Senate panel last week, “We evaluate that Iran, Hezbollah, and their affiliated proxies are attempting to carefully measure their actions, steering clear of provocations that could lead to a coordinated second front with the United States or Israel, all while imposing consequences amid the ongoing conflict. Walking this fine line is a challenging endeavor.”