US President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the US air and artillery strikes that killed four pro-Iranian militants in eastern Syria were ordered to protect US forces from attacks by Tehran-backed militias.
“I directed the attacks on August 23 to protect and defend the safety of our personnel … and to deter the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iranian-backed militias from carrying out or supporting further attacks against personnel and U.S. facilities,” Biden said in a statement informing Congress of the action.
The president said the US strikes, the most intense action by US forces in the region in many months, were in response to a series of rocket attacks on US and associated troop installations in the area.
Biden said the retaliatory strikes, involving Apache attack helicopters, AC-130 gunships and M777 artillery, targeted a facility used by the attackers for logistics and ammunition storage.
The first US attacks took place on Tuesday. But after Iranian-allied fighters launched a new bombardment of US positions on Wednesday, a stronger force of US planes flew to repel them.
In total, four militia fighters were killed and seven rocket launchers were destroyed, the US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees operations in the Middle East, said in a statement.
Three US service members suffered minor injuries in Wednesday’s bombing.
“We have made a concerted decision … to provide a proportionate response from a deterrence standpoint,” said Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder.
The attacks ended early Thursday.
“We have no more troops in contact. We believe this latest round of escalation is over,” said an anonymous US official.
– ‘Terrorists’ –
The fighting took place at the Conoco and Green Village bases in Deir Ezzor, a strategic and oil-rich province bordering Iraq.
The area east of the Euphrates is dominated by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, allies of the United States and other coalition partners that maintain a mission against remnants of the Islamic State jihadist group.
Tehran has rejected US claims that it was behind the militia attacks on US garrisons in Syria.
He said he only has the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps positioned inside Syria as “military advisers” with the pro-regime forces.
But Iraq’s Kataeb Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian group operating under the umbrella of the Hashed al Shaabi militia network, is involved inside Syria, as are the Iraqi Imam Ali Brigades and the Sayyed al Shuhada Brigades.
All three are close to the Revolutionary Guard.
The US strikes on Tuesday targeted “infrastructure used by groups associated with the Revolutionary Guards,” according to a Centcom statement.
Regarded as the ideological army of the Iranian regime, the Revolutionary Guards are on the US list of “terrorist groups.”
The upsurge in attacks and counterattacks comes as the United States and Iran move closer to a possible understanding to reinstate the 2015 nuclear deal, under which the West could ease sanctions on Tehran in exchange for it recommitting to strict limits. to its nuclear program.
US officials say the fighting in Syria is not related to the nuclear talks, which the European Union is mediating in Vienna.