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The Pentagon said airstrikes were carried out in retaliation for a drone strike on a US-led coalition base that killed a US contractor, wounded another and wounded five US soldiers.
The US military has said it has launched multiple airstrikes in eastern Syria against Iran-affiliated groups that it blamed for a deadly drone strike earlier that killed a contractor, wounded another and wounded five US troops, the Pentagon said.
The US strikes late Thursday night were in retaliation for an attack on a US-led coalition base near Hassakeh in northeastern Syria at about 1:38 pm (22:38 GMT) the same day, the Pentagon said in a statement.
US intelligence determined that the attacking drone was of Iranian origin. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the attacks targeted groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGG) in eastern Syria.
“The airstrikes were carried out in response to today’s attack and to a series of recent attacks on coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC,” Austin said in a statement.
Austin said he authorized the retaliatory actions at the direction of US President Joe Biden.
“As President Biden has made clear, we will take all necessary steps to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing,” Austin said.
“No group will attack our troops with impunity.”
US forces entered Syria in 2015 and supported allied forces in their fight against the ISIL (ISIS) group.
The US maintains the attacked base near Hassakeh, while there are an estimated 900 US troops in the country – and more contractors – also in northern, southern and eastern Syria.
Overnight, videos on social media appeared to show explosions in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor, a strategic province that borders Iraq and contains oil fields, the Associated Press reported.
Iranian-backed militias and Syrian forces control the area, which has also seen suspected airstrikes by Israel in recent months, reportedly targeting Iranian supply routes.
The Syrian state news agency SANA did not immediately acknowledge any US attacks.
Syria’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
There was no immediate response from Iran to the strikes.
Two of the wounded US troops were treated at the base in Syria, while three other wounded US soldiers and the US contractor were evacuated to a coalition medical facility in Iraq, the US Department of Defense said.
The number of casualties from Thursday’s drone strike — one killed and six wounded — is highly unusual, although attempted drone strikes against US troops in Syria are somewhat common.
General Erik Kurilla, who oversees US forces in the Middle East as head of Central Command, said US forces have been attacked by Iranian-backed groups about 78 times since early 2021.
Kurilla, who testified before the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee earlier on Thursday, warned against Iran’s drone fleet.
“The Iranian regime now has the largest and most capable unmanned air force in the region,” he said.
Three drones targeted a US base in Syria’s Al-Tanf region in January. The US military said two of the drones were shot down while the remaining drone hit the compound, injuring two members of the Syrian Free Army forces – part of the anti-ISIL coalition.
US officials believe drone and missile strikes against its forces are being led by Iranian-backed militias in Syria.