The United States carried out air strikes on Iran-linked groups in eastern Syria in response to a drone attack that killed a US contractor, according to US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin. The strikes were reportedly ordered by President Joe Biden and targeted "facilities used by groups affiliated with... [the] IRGC (The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps)" that have been responsible for a series of recent attacks against coalition forces in Syria.
US intelligence has identified the drone attack as "of Iranian origin", but Iran has not yet commented on the incident. Fourteen pro-Iran fighters were reportedly killed in the US strikes, according to the UK-based monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The US military has previously responded with air strikes when US bases in north-east Syria have been targeted, as was the case in August 2020 when sites in eastern Syria linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were bombed after rocket attacks on US troops.
Approximately 900 US troops are currently stationed in southern and eastern Syria as part of the US-led global coalition against the jihadist group Islamic State (IS). They are tasked with preventing a resurgence of IS, whose militants once controlled large swathes of Syria before being defeated in 2019 following separate campaigns waged by US-backed Kurdish and Arab militia fighters and Iran- and Russia-backed pro-government forces.
The IRGC has established a significant presence in Syria since the civil war began in 2011, sending hundreds of troops to advise President Bashar al-Assad's forces and to train and arm thousands of militiamen.
President Biden, who is currently in Canada for a working visit, offered his condolences to the family of the US contractor killed in the drone attack, and emphasized that the US does not seek conflict with Iran. However, he warned that the US would act forcefully to protect its people.
On Friday, US officials reported that rockets had targeted another US base, Green Village, in north-eastern Syria. The attack did not result in any injuries, but US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby acknowledged that the environment in Syria remains "dangerous".
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