A US contractor was killed and another contractor and five US service members were injured when a self-destructing drone struck a maintenance facility on a coalition base in northeast Syria on Thursday, the Pentagon said in a statement.
US intelligence analysts concluded that the drone was of “Iranian origin”, according to the Pentagon statement, which said the attack took place near Hasaka at 1.38 pm local time.
In response, at Joe President Biden’s direction, defence secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said he ordered airstrikes against facilities in eastern Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC.
“The airstrikes were conducted in response to today’s attack as well as a series of recent attacks against coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC,” Austin said in a statement released late on Thursday.
“These precision strikes are intended to protect and defend US personnel,” the statement said.
“The United States took proportionate and deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize casualties.”
The US attacked a munition warehouse, a control building and an intelligence-collection site, a senior US military official said.
The US airstrikes killed eight pro-Iran fighters in eastern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group in Britain that tracks the conflict through contacts in Syria.
Rami Abdurrahman, its director, said on Friday that the strikes had targeted a weapons depot in the city of Deir Ezzor, killing six fighters and that two other fighters had been killed by strikes in the desert of Mayadeen and near the town of Bukamal. The account could not be independently confirmed.
“As President Biden has made clear, we will take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing,” Austin said. “No group will strike our troops with impunity.”
The attacks are likely to stoke tensions with Iran, which Biden administration officials call the largest security threat in West Asia.
“Iran’s vast and deeply resourced proxy forces spread instability throughout the region and threaten our regional partners,” General Michael E. Kurilla, the head of the military’s Central Command, said in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee earlier on Thursday.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is a powerful branch of Iran’s armed forces that operate in parallel with the military.
It is charged with securing Iran’s borders, and its overseas arm, the Quds Force, carries out operations across West Asia and beyond, and trains and arms Shia proxy militias that operate in a number of countries.
The US has designated it a terrorist group. Iran has built increasingly sophisticated weapons-capable drones in recent years.
It has both sold them commercially to other nations, including to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine and stepped up its transfer to proxy groups.
The drones are part of a rapidly evolving threat from Iranian proxies in Syria, with militia forces specialized in operating more sophisticated weaponry hitting some of the most sensitive American targets in attacks that evaded US defences.
Two of the wounded service members were treated on-site, while the three other service members and the contractor were medically evacuated to coalition medical facilities in Iraq.
New York Times News Service