On Friday, President Joe Biden issued a warning to Iran that the United States would take strong action to protect its citizens after the U.S. military carried out air strikes against Iran-backed forces in retaliation for an attack in Syria. Another U.S. service member was also wounded on Friday in the latest tit-for-tat strike between Iran-backed forces and U.S. personnel in Syria.
Washington blamed Thursday’s seven casualties on a drone of Iranian origin, including the killing of an American contractor and the wounding of five U.S. troops and another contractor. Suspected U.S. rocket fire on Friday targeted new areas in eastern Syria, with no casualties reported. Pro-Iranian forces in Syria have warned that they have a “long arm” to respond to further U.S. strikes on their positions.
The violence could further damage already strained relations between the United States and Iran. As attempts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers have stalled, and Iranian drones have been used by Russia against Ukraine, the situation is becoming increasingly complex.
Although U.S. forces stationed in Syria have been attacked with drones before, deaths are rare. The United States has stated that it does not seek conflict with Iran, but that it is prepared to act forcefully to protect its people.
The Pentagon said U.S. F-15 jets on Thursday attacked two facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said the U.S. strikes had killed eight pro-Iranian fighters, but Reuters was unable to independently confirm the toll. Iran’s state Press TV said that no Iranians had been killed and quoted local sources as saying that the target was not an Iran-aligned military post, but that a rural development center and a grain center near a military airport had been hit.
The U.S. strikes were a response to a drone attack earlier on Thursday on a base near Hasakah in northeast Syria operated by a U.S.-led coalition battling the remnants of Islamic State. The Pentagon said that the U.S. military had a complete site picture in terms of radar, but it appeared that the defensive system on the base had failed. Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that troops on the ground did not appear to have had enough time to react to the drone.
U.S. troops have been attacked by Iranian-backed groups about 78 times since the beginning of 2021, according to the U.S. military. While Islamic State has lost the areas of Syria and Iraq it ruled over in 2014, sleeper cells still carry out hit-and-run attacks in desolate areas where neither the U.S.-led coalition nor the Syrian army exerts full control.