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US military strikes Iran-backed groups in Syria after American contractor dies in drone attack

The Hill logo The Hill 3/24/2023 Ellen Mitchell
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The U.S. military on Thursday struck Iranian-funded groups in Syria after a drone strike on a U.S. base in the country killed an American contractor and injured six others, the Pentagon announced.  

At the direction of President Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “authorized U.S. Central Command forces to conduct precision airstrikes tonight in eastern Syria against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC),” according to a Defense Department statement.  

“The airstrikes were conducted in response to today’s attack as well as a series of recent attacks against Coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC,” the statement added.  

Earlier on Thursday a U.S. contractor was killed and five U.S. service members and an additional American contractor were wounded after a drone struck a maintenance facility on a Coalition base near Hasakah in northeast Syria around 1:38 p.m. local time, the Pentagon said. 

Two of the wounded service members were treated on-site, while the four others were medically evacuated to Coalition medical facilities in Iraq, according to the statement.  

The U.S. intelligence community later assessed the drone to be of Iranian origin. 

“As President Biden has made clear, we will take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing,” Austin said in the release. “No group will strike our troops with impunity.” 

The Iranian government did not immediately address the attack, though the strikes are likely to increase tensions with Tehran.  

Videos have since emerged on social media showing a series of explosions in Syria’s oil-rich Deir Ez-Zor province, an area partly controlled by Iran-linked militia groups, The Associated Press reported. 

In a statement Thursday evening, CENTCOM head Gen. Erik Kurilla said the initial drone strike “was another in a series of attacks on our troops and partner forces.” 

He added that U.S. military could carry out additional strikes if there are further attacks, noting: “We are postured for scalable options in the face of any additional Iranian attacks.” 

Kurilla earlier on Thursday told lawmakers that Iranian-backed militias had carried out 78 drone attacks or rocket attacks against U.S. forces in the region since the start of 2021. 

“What Iran does to hide its hand is they use Iranian proxies,” he said while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee.  

Roughly 900 U.S. troops are based in eastern Syria to give help Syrian Kurdish forces keep an Islamic State resurgence at bay in the region.   

The American bases have been targeted by drone attacks in the last several months, though such strikes have not resulted in injuries or physical damage until now.  

Updated at 11:58 a.m.

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