Asia/South Asia
2 months ago

US launches airstrikes in Syria after death of US worker

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin addressing a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on March 15 this year –AP file photo
US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin addressing a briefing at the Pentagon in Washington on March 15 this year –AP file photo

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A strike Thursday by a suspected Iranian-made drone killed a US contractor and wounded six other Americans in northeast Syria, and US forces retaliated with airstrikes on sites in Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the Pentagon said.

Activists said the US bombing killed at least four people.

While it’s not the first time the US and Iran have traded strikes in Syria, the attack and the US response threaten to upend recent efforts to deescalate tensions across the wider Middle East, whose rival powers have made steps toward détente in recent days after years of turmoil.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that the American intelligence community had determined the drone was of Iranian origin, but offered no other immediate evidence to support the claim. The drone hit a coalition base in the northeast Syrian city of Hasaka. The wounded included five American service members and a US contractor.

Austin said the strikes were a response to the drone attack “as well as a series of recent attacks against coalition forces in Syria” by groups affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard.

Iran relies on a network of proxy forces through the Mideast to counter the US and Israel, its arch regional enemy. The US has had forces in northeast Syria since 2015, when they deployed as part of the fight against the Islamic State group, and maintains some 900 troops there, working with Kurdish-led forces that control around a third of Syria.

The US airstrikes hit targets in three towns in eastern Syria, activists said. Overnight, videos on social media purported to show explosions in Deir el-Zour, a strategic province that borders Iraq and contains oil fields. Iranian-backed militia groups and Syrian forces control the area, which also has seen suspected airstrikes by Israel in recent months allegedly targeting Iranian supply routes.

According to a defence official, the US counter strikes were conducted by F-15 fighter jets flying out of al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.

The activist group Deir Ezzor 24, which covers news in the province, said the American strikes killed four people and wounded a number of others, including Iraqis.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, put the death toll from US strikes at 11 Iranian-backed fighters — including six at an arms depot in the Harabesh neighbourhood in the city of Deir el-Zour and five others at military posts near the towns of Mayadeen and Boukamal.

Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Observatory said three rockets were fired earlier Friday at al-Omar oil field in Deir el-Zour that houses US troops, an apparent retaliation to the American strikes.

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