The U.S. launched strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria on Thursday in retaliation for a series of drone attacks on American military bases in the region, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
"Today, at President Biden’s direction," Austin said, "U.S. military forces conducted self-defense strikes on two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups. These precision self-defense strikes are a response to a series of ongoing and mostly unsuccessful attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed militia groups that began on October 17."
The U.S. military action comes amid rising tensions in the region over the conflict in Israel. Austin called the attacks “separate and distinct from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas” and said they don’t represent a shift in the U.S. approach to the conflict.
From Oct. 17 to Thursday, U.S. and coalition forces were attacked at least 19 separate times in Iraq and Syria by a mix of drones and rockets, according to defense officials. On Oct. 18, at least two one-way attack drones targeted al-Tanf military base in southern Syria, U.S. Central Command said. On the same day, there were two separate drone attacks against U.S. and coalition forces stationed at al-Asad base in western Iraq.
"As a result of these attacks, one U.S. citizen contractor died from a cardiac incident while sheltering in place; 21 U.S. personnel suffered from minor injuries," Austin said. All those injured have since returned to duty, he said.
On Friday, a defense official reported that another attack had occurred in Iraq, saying U.S. forces had shot down a one-way drone "a few kilometers" from the al-Asad base.
During a Wednesday news conference, Biden warned Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that if Iran-linked forces "continue to move against [U.S.] troops, we will respond, and he should be prepared. It has nothing to do with Israel."
A senior U.S. military official said the two locations were a weapons storage area and an ammunition storage area, and that the U.S. used precision munitions dropped by two F-16s.
The official said the U.S. did not coordinate with the Israelis about the strikes.
U.S. officials said the U.S. is still doing battle damage assessments and cannot yet say whether the strikes inflicted any casualties or whether there were any Iranians present.
"The President has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. personnel," Austin said, "and he directed today’s action to make clear that the United States will not tolerate such attacks and will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests."
He said: "The United States does not seek conflict and has no intention nor desire to engage in further hostilities, but these Iranian-backed attacks against U.S. forces are unacceptable and must stop. Iran wants to hide its hand and deny its role in these attacks against our forces. We will not let them."
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said Tuesday that the groups conducting the attacks are supported by Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“We always reserve the right to defend ourselves, and we will never hesitate to take action when needed to protect our forces and our interests overseas,” he added.