According to the Defense Department, there were nearly 20 attacks over 10 days by Iranian-backed militia forces against U.S. troops deployed to parts of Iraq and Syria as part of the continuing efforts to thoroughly destroy the remnants of the Islamic State group in that area.
In response to that series of Iranian-backed attacks on American personnel, some of whom suffered reportedly minor injuries, the U.S. military conducted a pair of airstrikes Thursday on two facilities in northeastern Syria that are linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp, the Washington Examiner reported.
The airstrikes in Syria were first revealed by Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin and were later confirmed with a little added detail during a background briefing with unnamed "senior" officials at the Pentagon.
"Today, at President Biden’s direction, 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," Sec. Austin said in a statement. "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."
Those attacks resulted in the death of a U.S. contractor from cardiac arrest as well as relatively minor injuries to 21 military personnel who have since returned to duty, according to the secretary, who noted, "The President 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."
"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," Austin stressed. "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."
The secretary added that the "narrowly tailored strikes" were only intended to defend and protect U.S. personnel and were "separate and distinct from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas," and Austin concluded by urging "all state and non-state entities not to take action that would escalate into a broader regional conflict."
Following the release of Sec. Austin's statement, the Pentagon held a background briefing on the airstrikes with two unnamed senior officials who largely reiterated the secretary's pronouncement and then provided a few additional details in response to questions from reporters.
The "discrete precision strikes" that occurred "near Abu Kamal, Syria," were carried out by a pair of F-16 fighter jets and targeted two separate IRGC-linked facilities, one of which stored weapons while the other stored ammunition that was used by various Iranian-backed militia groups in the series of attacks on U.S. forces.
A senior Defense official explained, "Again, what we did tonight was take self-defense action because our forces in the Middle East who are there to support security and stability are being threatened by Iran and Iran-backed militias. What you saw us demonstrate is readiness to take military action to defend our forces, and we're ready to do it again -- sort of core deterrence theory."
The officials repeatedly stressed that the Syrian facilities were directly linked to the IRGC and the militia attacks, and though they declined to specify whether any Iranians were present at the time of the strikes, they made it clear that there were no civilians present and that militia forces had been actively using both facilities earlier that day.
They also declined to provide specific details on whether the facilities were completely destroyed or only partially damaged, with a senior military official only saying vaguely, "In terms of what we -- what we hit, I would tell you we hit precisely what we aimed at, would be the first thing I'd tell you, and I'll leave it at that."
Similar to Sec. Austin's statement, the senior officials also made it clear that these strikes had nothing to do with the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and that Israel had not been notified ahead of time about the airstrikes on the Iran-linked facilities in Syria.
Interestingly enough, during Thursday's White House press briefing, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby made no mention of the airstrikes -- to be sure, they may have occurred yet at that point -- but did say without elaboration that "there was a direct message relayed" from President Joe Biden to Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a response to the Iranian-backed militia attacks that caused injuries to U.S. personnel.