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Iran drone attack on US base in Syria was response to Israeli strikes — NYT

Officials say 5 ‘suicide drones’ loaded with ball bearings and shrapnel hit the al-Tanf base on October 20; American troops had evacuated after being tipped off by Israel

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)
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)

A drone attack on a remote United States outpost in southern Syria last month was an Iranian retaliation for Israeli airstrikes in Syria, American and Israeli officials told the New York Times in a report published Friday.

Five “suicide drones” were launched at the al-Tanf base on October 20, according to the report. Two detonated on impact, and were loaded with ball bearings and shrapnel with a “clear intent to kill,” a senior US military official told the paper.

No deaths or injuries were reported as a result of the attack.

At the time, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby called it a “complex, coordinated and deliberate attack,” without providing further details.

According to the report, since three of the drones did not explode, US officials were able to study them and determine that they employed the same technology as UAVs used by Iran-backed militias in Iraq.

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

Most of the 200 American troops stationed at the base had been evacuated just hours before the attack, after being tipped off by Israeli intelligence, the officials said, according to the report.

In retaliation, the US Treasury Department announced new penalties against two senior members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and two affiliated companies for supplying lethal drones and related material to insurgent groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Ethiopia.

US President Joe Biden said last month that the United States will respond to actions Iran has taken against Washington’s interests, including drone strikes.

“With regards to the issue of how we’re going to respond to their actions against interest of the US, whether they are drone strikes or anything else, is we’re going to respond,” Biden said in a press conference following the G20 summit in Rome.

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

While Iran has not officially claimed responsibility for the attack, pro-Iran media outlets have lauded it.

Pro-Iran media outlets have been saying that the attack on al-Tanf was carried out by “Syria’s allies” — an apparent reference to Iran-backed groups — in retaliation for an attack days earlier near the historic Syrian town of Palmyra. Israel has been blamed for the attack. US officials say America was not involved.

The al-Tanf attack came in a period of rising tensions with Iran. The Biden administration has said international diplomatic efforts to get Iran back into negotiations to return to a 2015 nuclear deal were at a “critical place,” and that patience is wearing thin.

But Washington is also eager to bring Iran back to the negotiating table, which was the likely reason for the US declining to publicly accuse Iran of the drone attack, the New York Times reported.

The last major Iranian attack on US forces was in January 2020, when Tehran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles on al-Asad air base in Iraq. US and coalition troops were warned of the incoming missiles and were able to take cover, but more than 100 US service members received traumatic brain injuries as a result of the blasts.

That attack was in response to the US drone strike earlier that month near the Baghdad airport that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Two months after the al-Asad assault, US fighter jets struck five sites in retaliation, targeting Iranian-backed Shiite militia members believed responsible for the January rocket attack.

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