US Forces Come Under Fire in Syria Following Airstrikes Against Iran-Backed Militia

U.S. troops in eastern Syria came under rocket fire on Monday night, shortly after President Joe Biden ordered airstrikes against Iran-backed militia groups embedded at the Iraq–Syria border region.

Col. Wayne Maratto, a spokesman for the U.S.-led mission in Syria, said U.S. forces responded to the rocket fire in self defense by firing back at the rocket launching positions.

“U.S. Forces in Syria were attacked by multiple rockets. There are no injuries and damage is being assessed,” Maratto said on Twitter. “U.S. Forces in Syria, while under multiple rocket attack, acted in self- defense and conducted counter-battery artillery fire at rocket launching positions.”

It wasn’t immediately clear who fired the rockets in and around the U.S. base in Deir Ezzour in eastern Syria on Monday. However, Iran-backed militia groups claimed responsibility for the attacks, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Just hours before the rocket fire, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had told reporters in Rome that the U.S. airstrikes on Sunday were necessary, appropriate, and deliberate to “limit the risk of escalation” and to send a “clear and unambiguous deterrent message.”

Separately, the Pentagon said in a statement on Sunday that the “defensive precision airstrikes” were carried out on facilities known to be used by “Iran-backed militias that are engaged in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks against U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq.”

The Defense Department didn’t disclose whether it believes anyone was killed or injured. Iran-backed militia groups said the strikes killed four of their members.

“The U.S. strikes targeted operational and weapons storage facilities at two locations in Syria and one location in Iraq, both of which lie close to the border between those countries,” the department stated Sunday, adding that several terrorist groups, including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, use the facilities.

The Pentagon said the actions show that the U.S. president stands ready to act to protect U.S. personnel, who are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government. U.S. and coalition forces have been fighting side by side with the Iraqi Security Forces in an effort to defeat ISIS.

It was the second military operation by U.S. forces in Iraq since President Joe Biden took office.

“As a matter of international law, the United States acted pursuant to its right of self-defense. The strikes were both necessary to address the threat and appropriately limited in scope. As a matter of domestic law, the president took this action pursuant to his Article II authority to protect U.S. personnel in Iraq,” the statement said.

Biden on Monday defended the airstrikes, saying they targeted sites used by the Iranian-backed militia groups responsible for recent attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq.

“And I have that authority under Article II, and even those up in the Hill who are reluctant to acknowledge that have acknowledged that’s the case,” he said.

The Iraqi military condemned the U.S. strikes as a “blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and national security.” Iraqi militia groups meanwhile vowed to retaliate.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh accused the United States of “disrupting the security of the region.”

Melanie Sun contributed to this report.

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