Multiple rockets targeted a U.S. base near an oil field in Syria on Monday evening, a day after U.S. airstrikes hit facilities used by Iran-backed Shiite militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region.
The U.S. military said there were “no injuries and damage is being assessed.”
Col. Wayne Marotto, a spokesman for the U.S.-led mission against the Islamic State known as Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), said the attack against U.S. forces in Syria began at roughly 7:44 PM local time.
Marotto said U.S. forces “acted in self-defense and conducted counter-battery artillery fire at rocket-launching positions.”
Kurdish news service Rudaw quoted sources in the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who said “several artillery shells” landed on a key oil field in the Deir ez-Zor province of Syria, close to where the American troops were positioned. The SDF is working with the U.S. military against the Islamic State and other extremist forces in Syria.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said “Iran-backed militias” launched the rockets against the American base at al-Mayadeen in Deir ez-Zor. An oil field called al-Omar is close to the base.
The Observatory reported explosions in the city of al-Mayadeen, under the control of Iranian forces and their militia proxies. These detonations presumably came from the U.S. counter-battery artillery fire Marotto described.
Syrian state media reported Monday that “missiles” launched by an unspecified force “targeted a military base of the U.S. occupation forces in the al-Omar oil field.
The current clash with Iran’s militia proxies in Syria began when the militias used drones and rockets to attack American personnel in Iraq. After three months of such attacks, President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes against three militia positions in Iraq and Syria.
“At President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces earlier this evening conducted defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region. The targets were selected because these facilities are utilized by Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq,” the Pentagon said Sunday.
The Military Times quoted a defense official who said the Sunday strikes involved F-15 and F-16 jets, which “targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq.”
The defense official said these three sites, all close to the Iraq-Syria border, were used for drone command, control, and logistics by “several Iran-backed militia groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).”
KH is the Iraqi Shiite militia held responsible for attacks on Americans in Iraq in late 2019, which led to an airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump in January 2020 that eliminated KH founder Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Iranian terrorist mastermind Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officer credited with bringing numerous Shiite militias across the Middle East under Tehran’s control.
KSS is an offshoot from Kataib Hezbollah known for serving as Iran’s military proxies in the Syrian civil war. KSS leaders have publicly expressed willingness to fight for Iran’s interests in Yemen and to attack Saudi Arabia if Tehran gives the order.
Both KH and KSS are nominally part of the “Popular Mobilization Forces” (PMF), militia groups deputized by the Iraq central government to fight the Islamic State. Many of these militias are far more loyal to the government of Iran than Iraq.
The PMF has become a major element of Iran’s influence over Iraqi politics, a dismal state of affairs showcased on Sunday as thousands of PMF fighters held a march to show off their weapons — an event the ostensibly U.S.-friendly prime minister of Iraq, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, felt obliged to attend.
Kadhimi’s government condemned Sunday’s U.S. airstrikes as a “blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and national security.” An Iraqi military spokesman said his country should not become an “arena for settling accounts” between the U.S. and Iran.
The Syrian regime likewise denounced the U.S. strikes as a “flagrant violation of the sanctity of Syrian and Iraqi lands.”
KSS issued a statement after the Sunday airstrikes threatening to attack U.S. military aircraft and retaliate against American troops.
“From now on, a face-to-face battle with the American occupiers will begin, the first part of which is to target enemy aircraft in the Iraqi airspace. We will avenge the blood of our martyrs,” KSS vowed. KH co-signed on the belligerent statement.
The statement said at least four KSS militants were “martyred” by the U.S. airstrikes. U.S. officials said the Iraqi militia was trying to conceal the fact that its four operatives were killed on the Syrian side of the border.
The Iraqi Resistance Coordination, an umbrella organization for Iran’s militia proxies in Iraq, swore that it would “avenge the blood of our righteous martyrs against the perpetrators of this heinous crime and with God’s help, we will make the enemy taste the bitterness of revenge.”
U.S. lawmakers, including members of Biden’s Democrat Party, expressed concerns about escalating hostilities in Iraq and urged Biden to consult with Congress before taking further action.
“There is no doubt that President Biden possesses the ability to defend our forces abroad, and I continue to trust inherently the national security instincts of this White House,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) said Sunday.
“My concern is that the pace of activity directed at U.S. forces and the repeated retaliatory strikes against Iranian proxy forces are starting to look like what would qualify as a pattern of hostilities under the War Powers Act,” Murphy continued, suggesting Biden seek a “war declaration” but declining to specify what parties Biden should declare war against.