US airstrikes target bunkers used by Iran-linked militias in SyriaUS airstrikes target bunkers used by Iran-linked militias in Syria. Source: AL-MONITOR

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US airstrikes target bunkers used by Iran-linked militias in SyriaUS airstrikes target bunkers used by Iran-linked militias in Syria. Source: AL-MONITOR

US President Joe Biden authorized the strikes in a bid to deter harassment of US troops in Iraq and Syria.

People inspect the site where a US drone strike killed Maher al-Agal, an Islamic State leader, near the village of Khaltan, near Jindayris, northern Syria, July 12, 2022.

People inspect the site where a US drone strike killed Maher al-Agal, an Islamic State leader, near the village of Khaltan, near Jindayris, northern Syria, July 12, 2022. – Bakr Alkasem/AFP via Getty Images

Jared Szuba

@JM_Szuba

August 24, 2022

The US military said it carried out precision airstrikes against a bunker complex used by Iran-backed militias in eastern Syria early on Wednesday.

The White House authorized the strikes on Tuesday in response to recent attempts to target US bases in Syria with rockets and armed drones. US military officials said groups tied to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were behind those attacks.

American F-16 and F-15 fighter jets dropped guided bombs on nine bunkers used by the militias for logistical purposes and to store munitions in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province around 4 a.m. local time on Wednesday, US military officials said.

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The complex was closely surveilled for hundreds of hours leading up to the strikes, which military officials initially assessed not to have resulted in any casualties.

Why it matters: The retaliatory strikes came just over a week after two US-led coalition bases in eastern Syria were subjected to separate rocket and drone attacks on the same day.

Last Monday, at least two armed drones targeted al-Tanf garrison, a remote US Special Operations outpost on Syria’s southern border with Iraq and Jordan. The coalition said it disabled one of the incoming drones, and that no one was hurt.

Several hours later, rockets landed near the Green Village base on the east side of the Euphrates River in rural Deir ez-Zor, marking the second attack on US positions that day. Additional unfired rockets were discovered in a launcher nearby, the coalition said at the time.

President Joe Biden authorized the military’s response under Article II of the US Constitution in order to “defend US personnel by disrupting or deterring attacks by Iran-backed groups,” US Central Command said in a statement.

“Today’s strikes were necessary to protect and defend US personnel. The United States took proportionate, deliberate action to limit the risk of escalation and minimize risk of casualties,” CENTCOM’s chief spokesperson US Army Col. Joe Buccino said.

Quiet conflict. This isn’t the first time the United States has retaliated against IRGC-backed militias in Syria in a bid to halt the cycle of attacks, and if the past is any guide, it may not be the last.

Last June, US aircraft bombed facilities in Iraq and Syria that the Pentagon said had been used by the militias stage attacks on American-led coalition forces. Biden had previously authorized strikes on buildings used by Iran-backed groups at the Qaim crossing near the town of Albukamal, on Syria’s border with Iraq, in February 2021.

The crossing lies along the main overland route used by Iran-backed militias to transit weapons, supplies and personnel from Iraq into Syria. The US military presence at al-Tanf, roughly 150 miles to the southwest, obstructs their access to the coveted Baghdad-Damascus highway.

American forces at al-Tanf have come under drone attack at least three times over the past year. In December, a British fighter jet shot down a drone approaching the base. A barrage of as many as five drones forced US troops to temporarily evacuate parts of the base last October. That attack damaged living quarters and a recreational facility, but no injuries were reported.

The United States has provided some intelligence and military support for Israel’s quiet campaign of airstrikes in Syria, in an attempt to help stem the flow of arms to Iran-backed groups in Lebanon and the Levant.

Last week’s drone attack on al-Tanf came just hours after suspected Israeli aircraft reportedly struck Iran-linked targets near Damascus and Tartous, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Syrian regime media claimed three of its soldiers were killed in the strikes.

Iranian state media reported yesterday that an IRGC general “was martyred” on Monday during an advising mission in Syria, but offered no clarity on the circumstances of his death. 

Attacks by suspected Iran-linked groups on coalition sites in Iraq and Syria have been less frequent in recent months following a spate of incidents in January, which marked the second anniversary of the US targeted killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.

Know more: Read Jared Szuba’s reporting on the latest attempted attacks on US bases in Syria.

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