Early on Friday, U.S. fighter jets conducted airstrikes in eastern Syria on two locations associated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, as confirmed by the Pentagon. This action was taken in response to a series of drone and missile attacks on U.S. bases and personnel in the region that began the previous week.
These U.S. airstrikes reflect the Biden administration’s strategy to strike Iranian-backed groups, believed to be involved in targeting the U.S., with the aim of deterring future aggression, potentially influenced by Israel’s conflict with Hamas. Simultaneously, the administration seeks to prevent escalating tensions in the region and avoid triggering a broader conflict.
A senior U.S. military official reported that precision strikes were carried out near Boukamal by two F-16 fighter jets. These strikes targeted weapons and ammunition storage facilities connected to the IRGC. According to the official, the base had Iranian-aligned militia and IRGC personnel but no civilians. However, as of now, the U.S. does not have information regarding casualties or an assessment of the extent of the damage. The official did not disclose the quantity of munitions launched by the F-16s.
The Pentagon has reported a total of 19 attacks on U.S. bases and personnel in Iraq and Syria since October 17, including three new attacks on Thursday. Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder disclosed that two of these assaults, using drones to target al-Asad Airbase in Iraq and al-Tanf Garrison in Syria, resulted in injuries to 21 U.S. personnel.
In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin explained that these precision self-defense strikes were a response to a series of ongoing but mostly unsuccessful attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed militia groups, which began on October 17. He emphasized that President Joe Biden authorized these specific strikes to convey that the United States will not tolerate such attacks and will defend its personnel and interests. Importantly, he noted that these operations are separate and distinct from Israel’s conflict with Hamas.
A senior defense official informed reporters that the F-16 airstrikes are expected to significantly disrupt the ability of Iranian proxy groups to continue their attacks on U.S. forces. When asked about the specific groups targeted, the official explained that there are several with varying names, but the U.S. holds Tehran responsible for funding, arming, equipping, and directing these proxies. The official clarified that the airstrikes were not intended to escalate the regional conflict but to compel Iran to instruct the militia groups to cease their attacks on American bases and personnel.
The Biden administration has not accused Iran of having a direct role in the October 7th attack by Hamas on Israel and has indicated that it appears Tehran was not aware of it beforehand. Nevertheless, the U.S. has pointed out Iran’s long-standing support for Hamas and expressed concerns that Iran and its proxies could potentially escalate the conflict into a broader war.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized that the United States does not seek a wider conflict, but if Iranian proxy groups persist in their actions, the U.S. will not hesitate to take additional measures to protect its forces.
The Pentagon has reported that all U.S. personnel injured in the militant attacks sustained minor injuries and have returned to their duties. Additionally, a contractor suffered a cardiac arrest and unfortunately passed away while seeking shelter from a potential drone attack.
The retaliatory strikes were not unexpected. Both Pentagon and White House officials have consistently indicated over the past week that the U.S. would respond, with Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder reiterating on Thursday that the response would occur “at the time and place of our choosing.” He further stressed the U.S. commitment to defending its troops and interests overseas.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, was warned by President Biden on Wednesday that if Tehran continues to take actions against U.S. forces in the Middle East, the U.S. will respond.
The recent series of strikes by Iranian-linked groups occurred following a deadly explosion at a Gaza hospital, leading to protests in several Muslim nations. While the Israeli military has been conducting continuous operations in response to the Hamas attack in southern Israel nearly three weeks ago, Israel has denied responsibility for the al-Ahli hospital explosion, and the U.S. intelligence assessment found Tel Aviv not to be at fault.
The U.S., including the Pentagon, has consistently emphasized that any American response is directly related to the attacks on its troops and is not tied to the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Such retaliatory and preemptive strikes against Iranian targets in Syria after similar attacks on U.S. bases are part of established protocol.
For example, in March, the U.S. conducted strikes in Syria against sites used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, following an Iranian-linked attack that resulted in the death of a U.S. contractor and the injury of seven other Americans in northeastern Syria. American F-15 fighter jets based in al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar executed strikes on multiple locations around Deir el-Zour.
U.S. officials have consistently underscored that American responses are intended to be proportionate and serve as a deterrent against attacks on U.S. personnel, with their primary focus being the fight against the Islamic State group.
U.S. officials have not publicly linked the recent series of attacks in Syria and Iraq to the conflict in Gaza. However, Iranian officials have openly criticized the U.S. for supplying weapons to Israel, which have been used in Gaza, resulting in civilian casualties.
In response to these developments, the Pentagon has strengthened air defenses in the region to safeguard U.S. forces. The U.S. is deploying multiple batteries of Patriot missile systems, a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, and additional fighter jets.
The THAAD system is being sent from Fort Bliss, Texas, while the Patriot batteries are coming from Fort Liberty in North Carolina and Fort Sill in Oklahoma. An Avenger air defense system from Fort Liberty is also being dispatched.
Officials have indicated that up to two battalions of Patriot missile systems are being deployed. A battalion typically consists of at least three Patriot batteries, each equipped with six to eight launchers.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder disclosed on Thursday that approximately 900 troops have been deployed to the Middle East region or are in the process of being deployed, including those associated with the air defense systems.