US defence secretary says strike on site linked to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is response to at least 40 attacks on US forces in region since start of October
The US, for the second time in recent weeks, has carried out strikes against a weapons storage facility in eastern Syria that the Pentagon said was used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups.
US and coalition troops have been attacked at least 40 times in Iraq and Syria by Iran-backed forces since the start of October, as fears grow that the Israel-Hamas war could spread in the region. Forty-five US troops have suffered traumatic brain injuries or minor wounds.
In a statement, US defence secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday’s strikes were conducted by two US F-15 fighters and were in response to the recent attacks against US forces.
Austin said the attacks against US troops must stop. “If attacks by Iran’s proxies against US forces continue, we will not hesitate to take further necessary measures to protect our people,” Austin added.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said Wednesday’s strike killed nine people affiliated with Iran-backed groups in Syria – a toll that could not be independently confirmed.
The US has occasionally carried out retaliatory strikes against Iranian-backed forces in the region after they attack American forces.
On 26 October, US forces attacked two facilities used by the IRGC and groups it backs.
The US has 900 troops in Syria, and 2,500 more in neighbouring Iraq, on a mission to advise and assist local forces trying to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State, which in 2014 seized large swathes of both countries but was later defeated.
There is growing concern that the Israel-Hamas conflict could spread through the Middle East and turn US troops at isolated bases into targets.
An armed drone targeted al-Harir airbase hosting US forces in northern Iraq, two Reuters security sources said on Wednesday, following sirens warning of a possible attack at the US embassy in Baghdad.
The sirens sounded at the US embassy on Wednesday evening, several people in Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone that houses the embassy said, but there were no reports of projectile impacts or casualties.
A spokesperson for the US embassy and an Iraqi government security official did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A group called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for the latest attack, saying in a statement that it targeted al-Harir airbase with two drones.
Earlier on Wednesday, a US MQ-9 drone was also shot down near Yemen by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.
The US has sent warships and fighter aircraft to the region since the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted on 7 October, including two aircraft carriers, to try to deter Iran and Iran-backed groups. The number of troops added to the region is in the thousands.
Reuters has reported that the US military was taking new measures to protect its Middle East forces during the ramp-up in attacks by suspected Iran-backed groups, and was leaving open the possibility of evacuating military families if needed.
The measures include increasing US military patrols, restricting access to base facilities and boosting intelligence collection, including through drone and other surveillance operations, officials said.
Source : The Guardian