Suspected Iranian drone strikes on a facility at a coalition base in northeast Syria killed a U.S. contractor and injured several other U.S. service members and contractors on Thursday. The Pentagon stated that the unmanned aerial vehicle involved in the attack was of Iranian origin based on intelligence from the investigation. Videos posted on social media overnight showed explosions in Syria’s Deir Ez-Zor province, where Iran-backed militia groups and Syrian forces have been controlling the area that also contains vital oil fields.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed that U.S. Central Command forces carried out “precision airstrikes” on facilities in eastern Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in retaliation for the attack. Austin also mentioned that the airstrikes were conducted in response to the current day’s attack as well as a series of recent attacks against Coalition forces in Syria by groups belonging to the Revolutionary Guard. There was no response from Iran on the strikes that occurred during the fasting month of Ramadan.
Russia has also reportedly used Iranian drones in its attacks on Ukrainian sites as part of its war on Kyiv, while Western nations and experts have linked components in the drones back to Tehran. The attack jeopardizes attempts by Iran and Saudi Arabia to re-open embassies in each other’s countries, with the recent Syrian moves suggesting an effort towards re-opening the embassy in Syria that Iran backs during the country’s long war.
Biden launched attacks in Syria in February, June of 2021, and August 2022, all related to tensions with Iran under his administration’s guidance. There are approximately 900 U.S. troops along with other contractors stationed in Syria, and U.S. forces entered Syria in 2015, supporting allied forces in their battle against ISIS.
The Syrian war began with 2011 Arab Spring protests that led to the toppling of governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen; it later transitioned into a regional proxy conflict in which Russia and Iran supported Assad. The United Nations estimates that more than 300,000 civilians have died in the war, not including soldiers and insurgents whose numbers are believed to be in tens of thousands.
As President Biden stated, the U.S. will take every necessary step to defend its people and will always respond to attacks on its troops. Austin said he authorized the strikes at the direction of President Joe Biden and that no group could strike U.S. troops with impunity. Two of the wounded service members were treated at the scene, while three others and the wounded contractor were transported to medical facilities in Iraq. Syria’s state-run SANA news agency has yet to acknowledge the strikes, and Syria’s mission to the United Nations has not responded.