19 dead in US strikes on Iran-linked groups in Syria: new tally

The death toll from US retaliatory strikes against Iran-linked groups in Syria after a deadly drone strike has risen to 19, a war observer said Saturday, as Washington insisted it does not seek conflict with Tehran.

More rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias took place late Friday, prompting further attacks by coalition warplanes, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Washington carried out the first attacks after the Pentagon said a US contractor died — and another contractor and five military personnel were injured — by an “Iranian-origin” drone that struck a US-led coalition base nearby on Thursday from Hasakah in north-eastern Syria.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he ordered the “precision airstrikes… in eastern Syria against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” on orders from President Joe Biden.

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

After the strikes, Biden tried to bring the temperature down, saying the United States “does not seek conflict with Iran but stands ready to act vigorously to protect our people.”

– More rocket attacks –

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

There were no injuries or damage to facilities at the base, but a missile struck a house about three miles away, causing minor injuries to two women and two children, CENTCOM added.

Iran-backed militias targeted a base in the Conoco gas field later on Friday, prompting retaliatory strikes by coalition warplanes on targets in the city of Deir Ezzor, the observatory said.

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

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

Militias linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have a strong presence across Syria, particularly on the border with Iraq and south of the Euphrates River in Deir Ezzor province, where recent US attacks took place.

The United States has about 900 troops in posts in northeastern Syria to keep up the pressure on what remains of the Islamic State group and to 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 designed to protect US personnel.

The strikes “should send a very clear message that we are serious about protecting our staff and will respond quickly and decisively if threatened,” he said.

They were “proportionate and conscious measures aimed at limiting the risk of escalation in order to minimize the number of casualties,” he said.

– ‘Always reply’ –

US personnel in Syria have often been the target of attacks by militias the US says are backed by Tehran.

Two of the US soldiers wounded Thursday were being treated at the scene while the other three troops and a US contractor were being evacuated to Iraq, the Pentagon said.

“We will always take whatever action is necessary to defend our people, and always respond at a time and place of our choosing,” CENTCOM Chief Gen. Michael Kurilla said.

In January, the US military said three one-way attack drones had been fired against the Al-Tanf garrison in Syria, one breaching air defenses and wounding two allied Syrian fighters.

Last August, Biden ordered similar retaliatory strikes in Deir Ezzor province after several drones attacked a coalition outpost without inflicting casualties.

“We know these groups are sponsored by Iran,” Ryder said.

“So Iran certainly has a role to play in making sure these types of activities don’t happen,” he said.



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