John Kirby: U.S. vows to protect American soldiers in Syria
The United States on Friday said it would protect its personnel in Syria after the U.S. military carried out air strikes against Iran-backed forces in retaliation for an attack that killed an American contractor and wounded five U.S. troops.
Just a day after the deadly attack on U.S. personnel in Syria, which Washington blamed on a drone of Iranian origin, sources said a U.S. base in Syria’s northeast was targeted with a new missile attack. U.S. officials said there were no U.S. casualties in the incident on Friday.
The latest violence could further aggravate already strained relations between Washington and Tehran amid stalled efforts to revive a nuclear deal and Iran’s military support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We’re going to work to protect our people and our facilities as best we can. It’s a dangerous environment,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on CNN.
Although U.S. forces stationed in Syria have been targeted by drones before, fatalities are rare.
The Pentagon said the U.S. strikes by F-15 jets on Thursday targeted facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors the war in Syria, said the U.S. strikes had killed eight pro-Iranian fighters in Syria.
Iran’s state Press TV, which said no Iranian had been killed in the attack, quoted local sources as denying the target was an Iran-aligned military post, but that a rural development center and a grain center near a military airport had been hit.
“We will always take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing,” U.S. Army General Erik Kurilla, who oversees American troops in the Middle East, said in a statement.
The U.S. strikes were in response to an attack earlier on Thursday by a drone against U.S. personnel at a coalition base near Hasakah in northeast Syria.
Three service members and a contractor required medical evacuation to Iraq, where the U.S.-led coalition battling the remnants of Islamic State has medical facilities, the Pentagon said.
The other two wounded American troops were treated at the base, it said.
On Friday, the Pentagon said the injured personnel were in stable condition.
NEW ATTACK ‘INEFFECTIVE’
A U.S. base at the Al-Omar oil field in Syria was targeted with a missile attack on Friday morning, according to Lebanese pro-Iranian TV channel Al Mayadeen and a security source.
Kirby said that attack was ineffective and there were no U.S. casualties.
It is not uncommon for Iranian-backed groups to lob missiles at U.S. bases in Syria after they are hit with airstrikes.
U.S. forces first deployed into Syria during the Obama administration’s campaign against Islamic State, partnering with a Kurdish-led group called the Syrian Democratic Forces. About 900 U.S. troops are in Syria, most of them in the eastern party of the country.
U.S. troops have come under attack by Iranian-backed groups about 78 times since the beginning of 2021, according to the U.S. military.
While Islamic State has lost the swathes 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 exert full control.
The U.S. deployment, which former President Donald Trump nearly ended in 2018 before softening his withdrawal plans, is a remnant of the larger global war against terrorism that had once included the war in Afghanistan and a far larger U.S. military deployment to Iraq.