The U.S. launched retaliatory airstrikes against Iranian-linked sites in eastern Syria Thursday after a suicide drone attack killed a U.S. contractor and wounded five troops and another contractor at a U.S. base there.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the airstrikes targeted “facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps” after intelligence officials determined the drone was of Iranian origin, according to a Pentagon statement on Thursday.
The attack on the U.S. base occurred around 1:38 p.m. local time at a U.S. Coalition maintenance facility near the town of Hasakah in the country’s northeast, the Pentagon said. Two of the wounded troops received on-site medical treatment, while three more troops and the wounded contractor were evacuated to medical facilities in Iraq. Their condition is unclear.
U.S. troops remain in Syria as part of the nearly 8-year effort to defeat the Islamic State and prevent the group’s resurgence in areas left unsecured more than a decade into the country’s civil war.
Austin said in a statement that the strikes were conducted at “the direction of President Biden.”
U.S. Central Command’s top officer, Gen. Erik Kurilla, said “this was another in a series of attacks on our troops and partner forces,” in a tweeted statement.
“We will take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing,” Austin stated. “No group will strike our troops with impunity.”
Videos emerged on social media Thursday showing an apparent series of explosions in Syria’s Deir Ez-Zor province, the Associated Press reported. The oil-rich area is largely controlled by Syrian government forces and Iran-linked militia groups.
Syrian and Iranian government officials did not immediately address the attack or strikes, though Qatar’s state news agency reported the country’s foreign minister spoke with National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, according to the AP. Qatar also spoke around the same time to Iran’s top diplomat, the agency reported.
The release characterized the “precision” airstrikes as “proportional and deliberate” though it’s unclear how many retaliatory strikes took place.
The Pentagon has blamed previous unmanned drone strikes and missile attacks on groups backed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The U.S. under Biden has struck Syria previously over tensions with Iran, the AP reported. In February and June of 2021, as well as August 2022, Biden launched attacks there.
U.S. forces entered Syria in 2015, backing allied forces in their fight against the Islamic State group. The U.S. still maintains the base near Hasakah in northeast Syria where Thursday’s drone strike happened. There are roughly 900 U.S. troops, and even more contractors, in Syria, including in the north and farther south and east, according to the AP.
Military Times senior reporter Geoff Ziezulewicz contributed to this report.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.