Just weeks after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley visited U.S. troops stationed around oil fields in northeastern Syria to make sure they were safe on their bases, Iran-backed militias launched several drone and missile attacks on Thursday and Friday, killing an American contractor and wounding at least seven U.S. servicemembers.
It has been reported the base attacked Thursday, where the contractor was killed, and six GIs were wounded, did not have its air defenses working. U.S. counter-strikes have killed a reported 19 people, including seven Iranians. Around 900 U.S. troops are reportedly based in Syria.
Joe Biden said on Friday in comments made during a state visit to Canada he does not want to fight Iran, “And to make no mistake: The United States does not — does not, I emphasize — seek conflict with Iran, but be prepared for us to act forcefully to protect our people.”
Biden says that the US military carried out airstrikes in Syria in retaliation for an attack on American personnel pic.twitter.com/DuhPoxVEUu
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) March 24, 2023
NBC News reported on further reaction by Biden and on the tit-for-tat attacks Thursday and Friday between the U.S. and Iran in Syria (excerpt):
Separately, Biden told NBC News that the U.S. was “not going to stop” fighting the Islamic State group in the region.
His comments came after an American service member was injured at a base near the Conoco Gas field in northeastern Syria, which took incoming rocket fire, two U.S. officials, one from Defense, told NBC News.
Less than an hour later, the officials said three drones had attacked the Green Village, a U.S. installation in the area. Two were shot down and one damaged a building but there were no injuries, the officials said. Earlier on Friday, a 10-rocket attack on Green Village yielded no casualties or damage, they added.
The attacks came after the U.S. carried out retaliatory airstrikes following an attack that killed an American contractor when a suicide drone hit a coalition base near Hasakah in the country’s northeast. Five U.S. service members and another contractor were wounded.
Pentagon Spokesman Gen. Pat Ryder gave reporters details of the initial U.S. response at a Friday briefing:
Secretary Austin, at the direction of President Biden, authorized U.S. Central Command forces to conduct precision strikes into eastern Syria against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The air strikes were conducted in response to yesterday’s attack, as well as a series of recent attacks against coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC.
In terms of air strike details, two U.S. Air Force F-15E fighter aircraft, assigned to U.S. Air Forces Central and based in the CENTCOM Area of Responsibility, struck two IRGC-affiliated facilities at approximately 7:40 P.M. Eastern time, or 2:40 A.M. local. The facilities were located near Deir Ez-Zor in eastern Syria, and we’re continuing to assess the outcome of the strikes. Initial indications are that the facilities were destroyed. In regards to any militant casualties, we’re still assessing.
These precision strikes were intended to protect and defend U.S. personnel, and the U.S. took proportionate and deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize casualties. As Secretary Austin said in his statement, no group will strike our troops with impunity.
Reuters report on Milley’s March 4 visit to Syria:
The nearly eight-year-old U.S. deployment to Syria to combat Islamic State is still worth the risk, Army General Mark Milley said, after a rare, unannounced visit to a base in the country's northeast to meet U.S. troops https://t.co/pP8JbWh6D9 pic.twitter.com/QCxIgObMdp
— Reuters (@Reuters) March 6, 2023
A Milley spokesman gave a statement to the press detailing the purpose of the visit, including force protection:
“General Milley visited Northeast Syria today to meet with commanders and troops,” Joint Staff spokesman Col. Dave Butler told Anadolu.
“While there he received updates on the counter-Daesh mission, inspected force protection measures, and assessed repatriation efforts for the Al Hol refugee camp,” Butler added.
Fox News reported the base air defense system was not working at the base attacked on Thursday (excerpt):
The main air defense system at a coalition military base in Northeast Syria was not working Thursday when one American contractor was killed after a suspected Iranian drone hit the base and injured six other servicemen, a senior U.S. defense official told Fox News Friday.
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…Questions around why the defensive system was down remain unanswered, and an investigation into the system failure is ongoing.
The New York Times, which first reported that the electronic counter-defense system was “not fully operational,” said it also remains unclear whether opposition forces had been aware of the vulnerability when they fired upon the base.
Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder had nothing more to add regarding the system failure but told reporters Friday that U.S. Central Command “will conduct a review of what happened.”
Reuters reported Saturday that Iran threatened further attacks (excerpt):
“”Any pretext to attack bases created at the request of the Syrian government to deal with terrorism and Islamic State elements in this country will be met with an immediate counter-response,” Keyvan Khosravi, spokesperson for Iran’s top security body, was quoted as saying by the semi-official news agency Nournews.”
Iran has been emboldened by its partnership with Russia and China in a burgeoning alliance against the U.S. under the weak leadership on the world stage by Joe Biden. CENTCOM commander Gen. Erik Kurilla told Congress on Thursday there have been “about seventy-eight attacks” by Iran on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since January 2021.
The attacks this week also come after the U.S. House of Representatives voted down a bill by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria on March 8, 103-321. 171 Republicans and 150 Democrats opposed the bill with 47 Republicans and 56 Democrats voting in favor.
The AP reported Saturday an Iranian front group in Syria issued a warning to the U.S. (excerpt):
A statement issued late Friday by the Iranian Consultative Center in Syria warned the U.S. not to carry out further strikes in Syria. Otherwise, “we will have to retaliate.” It warned that “it will not be a simple revenge.”
The center, which speaks on behalf of Tehran in Syria, said the U.S. airstrikes targeted places used to store food products and other service centers in Deir el-Zour. It said the strike killed seven people and wounded seven others without giving the nationalities of the dead. An official with an Iran-backed group in Iraq said the strikes killed seven Iranians.
The Observatory raised the death toll from the U.S. strikes to 19, saying they were killed in three locations, including an arms depot in the Harabesh neighborhood in the city of Deir el-Zour, and two military posts near the towns of Mayadeen and Boukamal.
Iran-backed militia groups and Syrian forces control the area, which also has seen suspected airstrikes by Israel in recent months allegedly targeting Iranian supply routes.
According to U.S. officials, two simultaneous attacks were launched at U.S. forces in Syria late Friday. Officials said that based on preliminary information, there was a rocket attack on the Conoco plant, where U.S. troops are stationed, and one U.S. service member was wounded but is in stable condition. At about the same time, several drones were launched at Green Village, in Deir el-Zour province where U.S. troops are also based. One official said all but one of the drones were shot down, and there were no U.S. injuries there. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.
So far, there have been no reported strikes Saturday by either side in Syria as night has fallen local time.