Drones hit US base in Syria, in possible Iran revenge over Israel-attributed strikes

No injuries or damage reported in assault on al-Tanf; source tells Israeli broadcaster Tehran believed to be the culprit, a day after Israel allegedly targeted Iranian sites

The al-Tanf military outpost in southern Syria, October 22, 2018. (AP/Lolita Baldor)
The al-Tanf military outpost in southern Syria, October 22, 2018. (AP/Lolita Baldor)

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A drone attack hit a compound run by American troops and US-backed Syrian opposition fighters in eastern Syria on Monday, the US military said, adding that there were no casualties and no damage.

A Syrian opposition source told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster that Iran is believed to have carried out the attack. The unidentified source added the drone assault may have been a response to airstrikes in Syria on Sunday night that were attributed to Israel.

The US military said the drone attack took place in the vicinity of al-Tanf base near where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack.

The attack occurred hours after airstrikes on western and central Syria killed three soldiers, wounded three others and caused material damage. The state-run SANA broadcaster said Israeli jets launched missiles from over neighboring Lebanon, targeting sites in Tartus and on the outskirts of the capital Damascus

A Syrian opposition war monitor, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said the airstrikes hit Syrian army positions where Iran-backed fighters are based.

US and coalition troops are based at al-Tanf to train Syrian forces on patrols to counter terrorists from the Islamic State group. The base is also located on a road serving as a vital link for Iranian-backed forces, stretching from Tehran all the way to Lebanon.

Members of the Maghawir al-Thawra Syrian opposition group receive firearms training from US Army Special Forces soldiers at the al-Tanf military outpost in southern Syria on October 22, 2018. (AP/Lolita Baldor)

The military statement said coalition troops in coordination with opposition fighters — known as Maghaweir al-Thowra — “responded to an attack by multiple unmanned aerial systems in the vicinity of al-Tanf Garrison” on Monday morning.

It said the troops successfully engaged one of the drones preventing its impact while a second one detonated within the opposition forces’ compound, “resulting in zero casualties or reported damage.” The other attempted drone strikes were not successful, it added.

Maj. Gen. John Brennan, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force, condemned the drone strike. “Such attacks put the lives of innocent Syrian civilians at risk and undermine the significant efforts by our Partner Forces to maintain the lasting defeat of ISIS,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

Drone attacks on al-Tanf have been rare.

In October last year, US officials said they believe Iran was behind a drone attack that month in al-Tanf saying at the time that they believe that the attacks involved as many as five drones laden with explosive charges. It said the drones hit both the US side of al-Tanf garrison and the side where Syrian opposition forces stay.

The October attacks came days after an Israeli airstrike on central Syria. The New York Times later cited Israeli and US officials as saying the attacks were an Iranian retaliation to the Israeli strikes on Syria.

The damaged al-Tanf base in southern Syria is seen a day after it was apparently struck by Iranian drones, on October 20, 2021. (Courtesy, via Aurora Intel)

Israel does not acknowledge specific strikes in the enemy state, and had no comment on Sunday’s reports.

It has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria in the last decade, mostly to stymie attempts by Iranian forces to transfer weapons to the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, or establish a foothold on Israel’s northern frontier.

Israeli strikes have continued in Syrian airspace, which is largely controlled by Russia, even as ties with Moscow have deteriorated in recent months.

Israel has found itself at odds with Russia, as the Jewish state increasingly supports Ukraine against Russia’s invasion, while still seeking to maintain freedom of movement in Syria’s skies.

Islamic State jihadists conquered swaths of Iraq and Syria, declaring their “caliphate” in 2014. Five years later they lost their last scrap of territory to local coalition-backed forces in Syria.

In December last year, the Pentagon said a British fighter jet shot down a drone that threatened al-Tanf.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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