Iran-backed Militias Target U.S. Troops in Eastern Syria

U.S. officials blame Iran-backed groups for targeting a facility housing U.S. military personnel near Hasakah in northeast Syria on Thursday. The attack killed one American contractor and wounded several U.S. service members. American intelligence estimates a drone of “Iranian origin” carried out the strike. 

A Syrian militia, called Liwa al-Ghaliboun, say they are behind the assault near Hasakah on Thursday. However, the group did not provide evidence to support the claim.

For its part, Kata’ib Hezbollah leader Abu al-Askari congratulated the Syrian people for the strikes on American bases but denied his group was behind the offensives.

In response to Thursday’s attack, the U.S. military carried out airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militias in Deir Ezzor near the Syria-Iraq border.

statement by CENTCOM commander Mike Kurilla detailed the American response following the drone assault.

“This evening, we responded to an attack on our forces that killed an American contractor and wounded our troops and another American contractor by striking facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.”

Following the U.S. strikes in Deir Ezzor, ten rockets targeted U.S. personnel at the Mission Support Site Green Village in northeast Syria on Friday morning. No American troops were injured, but civilians were wounded when a rocket strayed off course and struck a home, according to a CENTCOM statement.

“On the morning of Mar. 24, at approximately 8:05 a.m. local time, ten rockets targeted coalition forces at the Mission Support Site Green village.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noted that U.S. strikes in Deir Ezzor were also a response to “a series of recent attacks against coalition forces in Syria by affiliated with the IRGC.”

In addition to the Friday morning rocket offensive, a U.S. official confirmed to Fox News that more strikes were launched on American bases by Iran-backed groups in eastern Syria that day, resulting in one wounded American soldier.

Militias loyal to Iran have been operating in Syria since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, and these deployments include Lebanese Hezbollah, Pakistani Zainebiyoun, and Afghan Fatemiyoun Brigades.

U.S. troops have been assaulted about 78 times in Syria since the beginning of 2021, according to data published by the U.S. military.

The U.S. has previously responded with force against Iran-backed groups in Syria. In Dec. 2019, the U.S. attacked Kata’ib Hezbollah facilities in Iraq and Syria, killing at least 25 members.

While militias in Syria have previously targeted American forces, Shiite groups based in Iraq have also carried out offensives.

On Jan. 24, 2023, an Iraqi façade group called Tashkil al-Warithin said it was responsible for attacking a U.S. military base in al-Tanf, Syria, with drones.

In 2020, Iran-backed groups launched a campaign of onslaughts against American coalition forces in Iraq. [See FDD’s Long War Journal Analysis: Iran’s propaganda game inside Iraq.]

David Adesnik, an FDD senior fellow and director of research, noted that Tehran had taken notice of the U.S. military’s underwhelming response to strikes from its proxies in the region. “The frequency of attacks on U.S. targets demonstrates the failure of the Biden administration’s efforts to deter Tehran. Its rare counterstrikes impose limited costs that the IRGC and its proxies can easily bear.”

Joe Truzman is an editor and senior research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian armed groups and non-state actors in the Middle East.

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