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US hints at more air strikes unless Iran-linked groups halt attacks

November 13, 2023 at 9:03 am

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Brussels, Belgium on October 12, 2023. [Dursun Aydemir – Anadolu Agency]

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin left open the possibility on Monday of more strikes against Iran-linked groups if attacks against American forces in Iraq and Syria don’t stop, hours after overnight US air strikes in Syria, Reuters has reported. The US military carried out its third air strike in as many weeks in Syria late on Sunday, targeting a training facility near the city of Albu Kamal and a safe house near the city of Mayadeen.

The strikes came after at least 40 attacks against US and coalition troops in Iraq and Syria by Iran-backed forces in recent weeks, as regional tensions mount over Israel’s war against the Palestinians in Gaza. At least 45 US troops have suffered traumatic brain injuries or minor wounds.

“These attacks must stop, and if they don’t stop, then we won’t hesitate to do what’s necessary, again, to protect the troops,” Austin told reporters at a news conference in Seoul. He said that the latest air strikes in eastern Syria targeted facilities used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and related groups.

“These strikes are intended to disrupt and degrade the freedom of action of these groups, which are directly responsible for attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria,” said the defence secretary.

The United States has 900 troops in Syria, and 2,500 more in neighbouring Iraq. They are there to advise and assist local forces trying to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State/Daesh, which in 2014 seized large swathes of both countries but was later defeated.

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There is growing concern that the Israel-Palestinian war could spread through the Middle East and turn US troops at isolated bases into targets of heavier weaponry than the smaller rockets and one-way drones seen so far.

The US has deployed additional air defence systems and sent warships and fighter aircraft to the region since fighting in Israel-Palestine erupted on 7 October, including two aircraft carrier strike groups, to try to deter Iran and Iran-backed groups. The number of troops since deployed to the region is in the thousands.

Reuters has reported that the US military is taking new measures to protect its Middle East forces during the ramp-up in attacks by suspected Iran-backed groups, and was leaving open the possibility of evacuating military families if needed. The measures include increasing US military patrols, restricting access to base facilities and boosting intelligence collection, including through drone and other surveillance operations, say officials.

It is still unclear whether anyone was killed in the latest US air strikes in Syria. A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a review is under way.

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