Iran sympathizers have attacked US forces in Iraq and Syria at least 150 times since President Joe Biden took office, they said in a Voice of America interview with two US defense officials.
More than a third of the attacks took place in the past month, marking a clear increase in violence against US forces in the region.
When asked on March 28 about the number of Iran-backed attacks on US forces in the Middle East during the Biden administration, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that there were 83 attacks.
Defense officials told the VOA on Friday that Iranian sympathizers carried out seven attacks against US troops in Iraq and Syria between March 29 and October 17.
There have been 61 additional attacks on US forces there since October 17, including attacks on three US bases on Friday.
A drone strike in Tal Baydar, Syria, on Friday damaged base infrastructure and injured a service member, who was evacuated from the base but has since returned to duty.
Most of the attacks since October 17 have been disrupted by the US military or failed to hit their targets, causing no casualties or damage to infrastructure, according to the military.
But some attacks have left more than 60 US service members with injuries, from shrapnel wounds to perforated eardrums and traumatic brain injuries. Officials say all those injured have returned to duty.
An American contractor at Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq suffered a heart attack and died while hiding in the area during a false alarm of an airstrike.
The Middle East has been a tinderbox since Hamas, an Iranian-backed group, launched a terrorist attack against Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,200 people and taking hostages. 240, according to Israel.
Israel’s retaliatory strikes and ground offensive have killed more than 12,000 Palestinians, about 5,000 of them children, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.
Former and current officials say the situation in Gaza is not the main reason for the attacks on US forces, however.
“The main goal of Iran is to expel the United States from the region. And that is the reason why these attacks are increasing,” he said in VOA this week to retired Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, former head of US Central Command.
The United States has increased its presence in the region to protect the approximately 2,500 American troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria and to prevent bad actors, including Iran and allied militias, the Houthis, Hezbollah, and others. yet, from expanding the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Does prevention work?
The Pentagon responded to the attacks last month with three rounds of retaliatory offensives in Syria against facilities used by Iran and its sympathetic forces.
Precision munitions fired from US warplanes hit two facilities in Syria in the early morning hours of October 27: a weapons storage site in Syria last week, a training center near Abu Kamal, and a safe house near Mayadin last Sunday.
“We have yet to see this war escalate into a wider conflict in the region.”
Iran continues its attacks after every US offensive.
When the VOA asked whether military deterrence was working, Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said Tuesday, “We think so.”
“We have not seen this war spill over into a broader regional conflict,” Singh told reporters in response to a question from VOA.
“The attacks we carried out are a very strong signal and message to Iran and its affiliated groups to stop,” he said.
Restraint of military force
The Republican US Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters Tuesday that the United States was fortunate that no Americans were killed in the attacks last month.
Graham is part of a bipartisan group of senators that introduced a resolution in the Senate this week urging the administration to keep all options on the table when it comes to deterring Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in English, including the use of military force.
“If Iran continues to threaten our troops in Syria and Iraq, the correct military response is, in my opinion, to attack IRGC training bases and infrastructure inside Iran,” Graham said.
“Iran is a toxic and evil force,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who also sponsored the resolution.
A series of attacks by Iranian-backed militants in March killed a US contractor in Syria, caused traumatic brain injuries to 23 service members, and injured 25 other US service members, according to the Pentagon.
The Pentagon responded with airstrikes against Iranian-backed facilities in Syria, very similar to offensives carried out by US forces in recent weeks.