14 killed in US strikes in Syria after drone kills US contractor

14 killed in US strikes in Syria after drone kills US contractor

Layal Abu Rahal

Beirut (AFP), March 24, 2023

Fourteen pro-Iranian militants were killed in US airstrikes in Syria in response to a drone strike that killed one American and wounded six others, a military monitor said on Friday.

A U.S. contractor was killed and another contractor and five U.S. service members were wounded when a kamikaze drone of “Iranian origin” struck a maintenance facility at a U.S.-led coalition base near Hasaka in northeastern Syria, the Pentagon said.

In response, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday that at the direction of President Joe Biden, he had ordered “high-precision airstrikes tonight in eastern Syria against targets used by groups associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”

“The airstrikes were in response to today’s attack, as well as a series of recent attacks on coalition forces in Syria by groups linked to KIR,” Austin said.

A few hours later, 10 missiles were fired at US and coalition forces at the Green Village base in the Al-Omar oil field in northeastern Syria, the US Central Command (CentCom) said.

There were no coalition casualties or damage to facilities at the base, but one rocket hit a house about five kilometers away, slightly injuring two women and two children, CentCom said.

– Iran link –

The Pentagon blamed the initial drone attack on militias linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Militias have a strong presence across Syria, particularly around the border with Iraq and south and west of the Euphrates in Deir ez-Zor province, where the latest US strikes have taken place.

The United States is deploying about 900 troops to posts in northeastern Syria to keep up pressure on remnants of the Islamic State group and support the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which control much of the northeast.

The Pentagon said two F-15 fighter jets retaliated early this morning local time. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitor with an extensive network of sources on the ground, the US attack killed six fighters at a weapons depot in the city of Deir ez-Zor, killing six pro-Iranian fighters, two near al-Zor. Mayadeen and six others near Albu Kamal.

Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder said the US airstrikes were carried out to protect US personnel.

“The strikes we carried out last night were intended to send a very clear message that we will take the protection of our staff seriously and that we will respond quickly and decisively if they are threatened,” he said.

The strikes were “proportionate and deliberate actions aimed at limiting the risk of escalation and minimizing casualties,” he said.

– “Always answer” –

US personnel in Syria have been frequently targeted by militias that the United States says is backed by Tehran.

Two of the U.S. service members wounded Thursday were treated at the scene, while three other service members and one U.S. contractor were evacuated to Iraq, the Pentagon said.

“We will always take whatever steps are necessary to protect our people, and we will always respond at a time and place of our choosing,” said CentCom chief Gen. Michael Curillo.

In January, the U.S. military said three unmanned aerial vehicles were launched against the al-Tanf garrison in Syria, one of which breached air defenses and wounded two allied Syrian fighter jets.

Last August, Biden ordered similar retaliatory strikes in Deir ez-Zor province after several drones targeted a coalition outpost without causing casualties.

“We know that these groups are sponsored by Iran,” Ryder said.

“So Iran certainly has a role to play in making sure that this kind of activity doesn’t happen,” he said.

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