U.S. military strikes Iranian facilities in Syria

The U.S. military launched its third round of airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria in response to repeated attacks by Iran-backed militias against U.S. forces fighting against the Islamic State in the region. The attack is thought to have killed a handful of Iranian proxy militiamen.

“U.S. military forces conducted precision strikes today on facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran-affiliated groups in response to continued attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement released on Nov. 12. “The strikes were conducted against a training facility and a safe house near the cities of Abu Kamal and Mayadin, respectively.”

Six or seven “Iranian proxy fighters” were killed in the strike on the safe house, which is also used as a militia headquarters, Fox News‘ Jennifer Griffin reported.

It is unclear which militias used the safe houses and weapons storage facilities. Harakat al-Nujaba (also known as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada are the two largest Iranian proxies that operate in Syria. The leaders of both groups are closely allied with Iran and its IRGC, and these Iranian proxies are directly supported by the IRGC [See LWJ report, Profiles of 15 Iranian-backed militias in the Middle East for more information].

FDD’s Long War Journal has confirmed 46 attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria since Oct. 17. There may be more attacks against U.S. bases, as the Iran-backed militias, most under the guise of the umbrella front group known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, have claimed more attacks that could not be confirmed. It is possible some of these attacks, most of which are conducted with drones, rockets and missiles, failed and did not reach the intended target. It is also possible the Department of Defense, which fears a broader war in the region and does not wish to escalate the confrontation with the militias, is underreporting the attacks.

Austin’s comments differ from his statements associated with the two previous strikes. According to Austin, the Nov. 12 strikes were “intended to disrupt and degrade the freedom of action and capabilities” of the Iran-backed militias “directly responsible for attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria,” Austin said on Nov. 13.

Previously, Austin framed the strikes in Syria as an attempt to dissuade Iran and its militia proxies from launching further strikes. Austin described the strikes as “narrowly-tailored” and said they were intended to deter Iran and its militias from further attacking U.S. bases. Austin then softened the message of deterrence by stating that “The United States does not seek conflict and has no intention nor desire to engage in further hostilities …” Additionally, Austin attempted to delink the strikes in U.S. Syria from Israel’s war with Hamas. The militias have not been deterred and have continued to target U.S. forces in the region while stating they attacks are in support of Hamas’ war with Israel.

Joe Truzman is a research analyst at FDD's Long War Journal focused primarily on Palestinian militant groups and Hezbollah. Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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