The United States has carried out strikes against two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated groups in response to a recent series of attacks against the US personnel stationed in Iraq and Syria on the part of militias supported by Tehran, declared US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday.
US bases and personnel in the Middle East have been the target of a series of drone and missile attacks since October 17.
In the drone attacks on the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq and the Al Tanf Garrison in Syria, an American contractor for the US military died of cardiac arrest while taking shelter during one of the attacks and 21 soldiers in US died. on duty shortly thereafter, according to the Pentagon.
US President Joe Biden “led today’s action to make clear that the United States will not tolerate such attacks and will defend itself, its personnel and its interests,” Austin said in a statement.
Austin stressed that the United States “does not seek conflict and has no intention or desire to engage in further hostilities, but these Iranian-backed attacks on US forces are unacceptable and must stop.”
“Iran wants to hide its hand and deny its role in attacks against our forces. We will not agree. “If attacks by Iranian proxies against US forces continue, no We will not hesitate to take other necessary steps to protect our people,” the US defense chief said.
“These attacks which are strictly self-defense are intended solely to protect and defend US personnel in Iraq and Syria. “They are separate and distinct from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, and are not a changing our approach to the conflict between Israel and Hamas,” Austin clarified.
“We continue to urge all state and non-state entities not to take actions that could lead to a wider conflict in the region,” he added.
According to the Pentagon, there have been at least 19 attacks on US bases and personnel in Iraq and Syria since October 17, three of which were on Thursday.
A senior US military official said the precision strikes hit weapons and ammunition storage sites linked to the IRGC, a US-designated terrorist organization.
Two American F-16 fighter jets made the sortie in locations near the town of Boukamal, near the Iraqi border, the official said.
The area is believed to be a major arms transit route between Iran and Syria or Lebanon, via Iraq.
The official said there were Iranian-aligned militiamen and IRGC personnel at the base and no civilians, but the US had no information on casualties or an assessment of the damage.
The official did not want to specify how many missiles the F-16 launched.
A senior defense official said the locations were chosen because the IRGC stores the types of ammunition used in attacks on US bases and troops.
The official told reporters that the F-16 airstrikes had a significant impact on the ability of Iranian proxy groups to continue attacking US forces.
Asked which groups were targeted, the official said there were several with different names, but that the US held Tehran responsible for funding, arming, equipping and supervising proxies.
The official said the airstrikes were not designed to expand the conflict in the region, but to force Iran to direct militia groups to stop attacking US bases and personnel.
The two officials spoke to reporters after the attacks on condition of anonymity providing details about the mission that have not been made public.
The strikes in Syria came after US President Joe Biden directly warned Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday against attacks on US troops, the White House said.
“There was a direct message given. That’s as far as I go,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters, declining to say how it was given.
Israel has repeatedly accused Iran of being a key force behind Hamas’ coordinated attacks on Israel, where terrorists crossed the border to carry out a devastating attack. in nearby communities, killing about 1,400 people and taking more than 220 people hostage. The majority of those killed when the gunmen took over the border communities were civilians, including children, infants and the elderly. Entire families were killed in their homes, and more than 260 were massacred at an open-air festival, many among the horrific acts of terrorist brutality.
However, the Biden administration has not publicly accused Iran of having a direct role in the deadly attack on October 7 and said that, so far, it appears that Tehran did not know about it beforehand.
The United States has noted that Iran has long supported Hamas and expressed concern that Iran and its proxies could turn the conflict into a wider war.
US officials have consistently emphasized that the US response was designed to be proportionate and intended to prevent attacks on US personnel committed to fighting the Islamic State group.
Although US officials have not publicly linked the recent series of attacks in Syria and Iraq to the war between Israel and Hamas, Iranian officials have openly criticized the United States. for providing weapons to Israel that were used to attack Gaza.
The Pentagon, for its part, is also strengthening air defenses in the region to protect US forces. Israel has apparently agreed to delay its ground operations in Gaza until the systems are installed.
The United States has announced that it will send more Patriot missile system batteries, a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery and additional fighter aircraft.
The THAAD will be deployed from Fort Bliss, Texas, and the Patriot batteries from Fort Liberty, North Carolina, and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. An Avenger air defense system was also dispatched from Fort Liberty.
Officials say up to two battalions of Patriots have been deployed. A battalion can include at least three Patriot batteries, each of which has between six and eight launchers.
US troops are also deployed or in the process of being deployed in the Middle East region, including air defense system partners.
The United States has deployed two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean in a powerful show of support for Israel.