US airstrikes target Revolutionary Guard-backed militias in eastern Syria

Attack in Deir Ezzor province carried out in response to drone attack on al-Tanf base by IRGC, Pentagon says

Two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors fly above Syria on Feb. 2, 2018. (Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott/US Air National Guard)
Two U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors fly above Syria on Feb. 2, 2018. (Staff Sgt. Colton Elliott/US Air National Guard)

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — The US military said early Wednesday it carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria that targeted areas used by militias backed by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

There was no immediate acknowledgment by Syria’s state-run media of the strikes hitting Deir Ezzor. Iran as well did not acknowledge the attack.

The US military’s Central Command said the strikes “took proportionate, deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize the risk of casualties.”

It did not identify the targets, nor offer any casualty figures from the strikes, which the military said came at the orders of President Joe Biden.

“Today’s strikes were necessary to protect and defend US personnel,” Central Command spokesman Col. Joe Buccino said in a statement.

The colonel added the attack was in response to an August 15 attack targeting US forces. That attack saw drones allegedly launched by Iranian-backed militias target the al-Tanf Garrison used by American forces. US Central Command described the assault as causing “zero casualties and no damage” at the time.

A US Marine fires a shoulder-fired anti-tank missile during a live fire demonstration near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, September 7, 2018. (Cpl. Carlos Lopez/US Marine Corps)

The strike came days after the US revealed that Iran had dropped its demand for the US to delist the IRGC in exchange for Tehran agreeing to return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.

Deir Ezzor is a strategic province that borders Iraq and contains oil fields. Iran-backed militia groups and Syrian forces control the area and have often been the target of Israeli war planes in previous strikes.

On Tuesday, Iranian state media confirmed that an IRGC general was killed in Syria.

“General Abolfazl Alijani, a member of the IRGC’s ground forces who was on a mission in Syria as a military adviser, was martyred on Sunday,” the state broadcaster said on its website.

It described Alijani as a “defender of the sanctuary”, a term used for those who work on behalf of Iran in Syria or Iraq, without providing more details of the attack in which he was killed.

Israel was blamed for several airstrikes in western and central Syria this month that left three soldiers dead.

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

US forces entered Syria in 2015, backing allied forces in their fight against the Islamic State group.

AFP contributed to this report.

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