19 killed in US strikes on Iran-linked groups in Syria

Published March 26, 2023
U.S. Joint Chiefs Chair Army General Mark Milley speaks with US forces in Syria during an unannounced visit at a U.S. military base in Northeast Syria, March 4, 2023. — Reuters
U.S. Joint Chiefs Chair Army General Mark Milley speaks with US forces in Syria during an unannounced visit at a U.S. military base in Northeast Syria, March 4, 2023. — Reuters

BEIRUT: The death toll from retaliatory US strikes on Iran-linked groups in Syria following a deadly drone attack has risen to 19, a war monitor said on Saturday, as Washington insisted it is not seeking conflict with Tehran.

Further rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias took place late on Friday, prompting more strikes by coalition warplanes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Washington carried out the initial strikes after the Pentagon said a US contractor died — and another contractor and five military personnel were wounded — by a drone “of Iranian origin” that struck a US-led coalition base near Hasakeh in northeastern Syria on Thursday.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that, at President Joe Biden’s direction, he had ordered the “precision air strikes... in eastern Syria against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps”.

On Saturday, the Britain-based Observatory, which has a wide network of sources on the ground, said 19 people were killed in the first wave of US strikes: three Syrian regime soldiers and 16 members of Iran-backed forces, including 11 Syrian nationals.

Following the strikes, Biden sought to lower the temperature saying the United States “does not seek conflict with Iran, but is prepared to act forcefully to protect our people”.

More rocket attacks

Hours after the strikes, 10 rockets were fired at American and coalition forces at the Green Village base in northeast Syria, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said.

There were no injuries or damage to facilities at the base, but one rocket struck a home around five kilometres (three miles) away, causing minor wounds to two women and two children, CENTCOM added.

Iran-backed militias targeted a base in the Conoco gas field, prompting retaliatory strikes from coalition warplanes on targets in Deir Ezzor city, the Observatory said.

The war monitor said rocket fire then targeted coalition facilities at the Al-Omar oil field base and in the eastern countryside of Deir Ezzor, “causing material damage”.

A “cautious calm” returned to the Deir Ezzor area in the early hours of Saturday morning, the Observatory said.

Militias affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have a heavy presence across Syria, especially around the border with Iraq, and south of the Euphrates in Deir Ezzor province, where the latest US strikes took place.

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

The Pentagon said two F-15 fighters launched the retaliatory attack — which spokesman Pat Ryder said was to protect US personnel.

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

They were “proportionate and deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation to minimise casualties,” he said.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2023

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