U.S. military forces struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated terror proxies, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced on Friday.
The strikes came in response to a series of attacks this week by Iranian-backed groups against American personnel stationed in Iraq and Syria.
An American contractor died from a heart attack while sheltering during one of those attacks, and 21 U.S. soldiers were lightly injured, according to the Pentagon.
“The President [Joe Biden] has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. personnel, 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,” according to a statement by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Austin stressed that Washington “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. If attacks by Iran’s proxies against U.S. forces continue, we will not hesitate to take further necessary measures to protect our people,” added the defense chief.
“These narrowly tailored strikes in self-defense were intended solely to protect and defend U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria. They are separate and distinct from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, and do not constitute a shift in our approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict,” said Austin.
“We continue to urge all state and non-state entities not to take action that would escalate into a broader regional conflict,” he said.
A senior U.S. military official told the Associated Press that the precision strikes in Syria struck weapons and ammunition storage areas connected to the IRGC.
Two F-16 fighter jets carried out the airstrikes on sites near the town of Bukamal near the Iraqi border, said the official. The area is a main conduit for weapons transfers between Iran and Syria or Lebanon, via Iraq.
‘Deter hostile actions against Israel’
On Wednesday, Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Iran is assisting Hamas by supplying it with intelligence, and is also boosting anti-Israel incitement worldwide.
Iran also helped Hamas with training, weapons, funding and technological knowledge, said Hagari.
Israel has acceded to a U.S. request to hold off on its planned ground invasion of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip so that American forces can position air defenses to protect troops in the region.
“The Pentagon is scrambling to deploy nearly a dozen air-defense systems to the region, including for U.S. troops serving in Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
U.S. officials convinced Israel to wait until those deployments are completed, which could be as soon as this week.
However, Washington’s central concern is protecting its troops from missile and rocket attacks as it fears terrorist groups will up their attacks on American forces once an Israeli ground invasion begins.
There have been at least 13 such attacks in Iraq and Syria with drones and missiles recently.
Earlier this month, Austin ordered the USS Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group deployed to the Eastern Mediterranean.
The announcement came just after Austin completed his visit to Israel where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
In a statement, Austin said that this was being done “as part of our effort to deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts towards widening this war following Hamas’s attack on Israel.”
The Strike Group includes the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea, guided-missile destroyers USS Gravely and USS Mason, and Carrier Air Wing 3, with nine aircraft squadrons, and embarked headquarters staffs.
The Eisenhower CSG was set to join the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group, which includes the USS Normandy, USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney, and USS Roosevelt.
The U.S. Air Force also announced deployment to the region of squadrons of F-15, F-16 and A-10 fighter aircraft.
“The increases to U.S. force posture signal the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israel’s security and our resolve to deter any state or non-state actor seeking to escalate this war,” said Austin.
On Tuesday night, the IDF struck Syrian army sites in response to rocket fire toward the southern Golan Heights.
Fighter jets hit “military infrastructure and mortar launchers” after two rockets were launched at Israeli territory from Syria; both fell in open areas, the military stated.
On Wednesday, Israeli airstrikes caused damage to Aleppo Airport, according to Syrian media reports, in at least the third such instance in two weeks.
Israeli airstrikes overnight on Oct. 21 reportedly put the Damascus and Aleppo airports out of service.
Israel has struck hundreds of targets in Syria in recent years as part of an effort to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in the country. However, it rarely acknowledges these incidents.