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Drone attack in Syria kills American, prompting U.S. to launch airstrikes


A one-way attack drone struck a U.S. military position in Syria on Thursday, killing an American contractor, wounding U.S. troops and a second U.S. contractor, and prompting the Pentagon to launch retaliatory airstrikes, officials said.

The drone — which the Pentagon, citing a U.S. intelligence assessment, described as Iranian in origin — struck a maintenance facility within a military base near Hasakah, a city in northeastern Syria, officials disclosed in a news release distributed Thursday night.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in an accompanying statement, said that at the direction of President Biden, U.S. forces in the region carried out airstrikes against facilities affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a paramilitary force that, on and off, has targeted U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East for years.

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“The airstrikes,” Austin said, “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. 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. No group will strike our troops with impunity.”

Identities of the dead American and wounded personnel were not disclosed.

Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, who as the head of U.S. Central Command oversees all American military activity in the region, said in a statement that the United States has “scalable options” should tensions with Iran or it proxy forces escalate further. He described Thursday’s deadly strike as “another in a series of attacks on our troops and partner forces.”

While Biden has pledged to end American “forever wars,” he has maintained a force of about 900 U.S. troops in Syria and another 2,500 in neighboring Iraq, both bolstered by hundreds of contractors. They are remnants of a larger force that, several years ago, guided local partner groups in a ferocious war to destroy the Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate.

That campaign was mostly successful, but the Islamic State and other terrorist groups remain active in the region, and so the American military mission endures. In February, four U.S. troops and a military working dog were wounded in an explosion during a raid on an Islamic State compound in Syria, U.S. officials said.

The statement released by the Pentagon on Thursday said that two U.S. troops were treated on-site for injuries suffered in the attack, and that three others as well as an American contractor were evacuated to medical facilities in Iraq for additional care. All are in stable condition, a U.S. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the matter is considered highly sensitive.

The retaliatory airstrikes were carried out by F-15 fighter jets, the official said. The Pentagon statement described its counterattack as “intended to protect and defend U.S. personnel,” calling the action “proportionate” and intended to “limit the risk of escalation and minimize casualties.”

Earlier Thursday, Kurilla told the House Armed Services Committee that Iran has launched 78 attacks on U.S. positions in Syria since January 2021. Tehran, he said, now possesses the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East, and the largest and most capable unmanned aerial vehicle force in the region.

“The advancement of Iranian military capabilities over the past 40 years is unparalleled in the region; in fact, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of today is unrecognizable from just five years ago,” Kurilla told lawmakers.

The attack comes about a week after the general visited Hasakah, where a detention facility houses more than 5,000 Islamic State fighters, Kurilla told lawmakers. The population, he said, “represents a looming threat to Syria, the region, and beyond.”

Kurilla said officials with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a group partnered with the United States to counter the Islamic State, see the detainees there as unrepentant and subject to further radicalization. One official described it to Kurilla as a “ticking time bomb,” the general said.

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.