US forces hit Iran-aligned militias in Syria — report

US military launches counter-attack after taking rocket fire from Afghan Shi’ite group said backed by Tehran, US officials tell Reuters

Illustrative: American soldiers during an exercise in the countryside of Deir Ezzor in northeastern Syria, December 8, 2021. .(AP/Baderkhan Ahmad)
Illustrative: American soldiers during an exercise in the countryside of Deir Ezzor in northeastern Syria, December 8, 2021. .(AP/Baderkhan Ahmad)

US military forces reportedly carried out a counter-attack on suspected Syria-based militias aligned with Iran after taking rocket fire in a not-yet-disclosed location on Wednesday.

The counter-attack killed an unknown number of militias, US officials told Reuters. The nature of the counter-attack was not known.

The incident came hours after the US carried out airstrikes in eastern Syria targeting pro-Iranian militia bases, the US military’s Central Command said. It said the “proportionate, deliberate action” hit militias backed by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

Iran has denied any link to the groups targeted in the attacks.

Opposition war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activist collective Deir Ezzor 24 said the US airstrikes targeted the Ayash Camp run by the Fatimiyoun group made up of Shi’ite fighters from Afghanistan. The war monitor reported that at least six Syrian and foreign fighters were killed in the airstrikes, while Deir Ezzor 24 reported 10 deaths.

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

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

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

Central Command spokesman Col. Joe Buccino said in a statement Wednesday that the US strikes “were necessary to protect and defend US personnel.” 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.

The US Treasury said the Fatimiyoun has fought numerous battles in Syria, and is led by Iran’s elite Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard.

“The Ayash warehouse is a very important one for Iran’s militias,” Deir Ezzor 24 CEO Omar Abu Layla told The Associated Press Tuesday. “We expect that Iran will respond, either in al-Tanf or possibly in Iraq.”

The US strike came days after Washington revealed that Iran had dropped its demand for the US to delist the Revolutionary Guard (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 warplanes in previous strikes.

On Tuesday, Iranian state media confirmed that an IRGC general was killed in Syria, without providing details on when or where.

Israel was blamed for several airstrikes in western and central Syria this month that left three soldiers dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the alleged Israeli airstrikes hit Syrian army positions where Iran-backed fighters are based.

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