BEIRUT – The U.S. military has launched strikes on dozens of sites manned by Iranian-backed fighters in western Iraq and eastern Syria in retaliation for a drone strike in Jordan in late January that killed three service members. American and injured dozens.
Tensions had been rising since the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7, and a week later, Iranian-backed fighters, who are loosely allied with Hamas, began carrying out drone and rocket attacks on bases housing troops. Americans in Iraq and Syria. A deadly attack on the desert outpost known as Tower 22 in Jordan, near the Syrian border, further raised tensions.
US retaliation on Friday had been expected since the January 28 attack in Jordan.
WHY IS THE AREA THAT GOT STUCK IMPORTANT?
The 85 targets attacked in seven locations are in a strategic region where thousands of Iranian-backed fighters are deployed to help expand Iran’s influence from Tehran to the Mediterranean coast.
US bases in the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour and the northeastern province of Hassakeh have been under attack for years. The Euphrates River flows through Syria into Iraq, with U.S. troops and U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters on the east bank and Iranian-backed fighters and Syrian government forces on the west.
US troop bases in Iraq have also been attacked.
The Iranian-backed militias control the Iraqi side of the border and move freely in and out of Syria, where they occupy positions with their allies from Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah and other Shiite armed groups.
WHAT OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED AND HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE KILLED?
The US military said Friday that its massive barrage of attacks hit command and control headquarters; intelligence centers; storage sites for rockets and missiles, drones and ammunition; and other facilities connected to militias and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, which manages Tehran’s relationship with regional militias and their weaponry.
Syrian opposition activists said the strikes hit the Imam Ali base near the Syrian border town of Boukamal, the Ein Ali base in Quriya, just south of the strategic town of Mayadeen, and a radar center on a mountain. near the provincial capital which is also called Deir el-Zour.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said 29 rank-and-file fighters were killed in those strikes.
The strikes also hit a border crossing known as Humaydiya, where militias cross between Iraq and Syria, according to Omar Abu Layla, a Europe-based activist who runs the media outlet Deir Ezzor 24. He said the strikes also hit an area within of the city of Mayadeen known as “the safe neighborhood.”
Iraqi government spokesman Bassim al-Awadi said the border attacks killed 16 people and caused “significant damage” to homes and private property.
The Popular Mobilization Force, a coalition of Iranian-backed militias that is nominally under the control of the Iraqi army, said the strikes in western Iraq hit a logistical support post, a tank battalion, an artillery post and a hospital. The PMF said 16 people were killed and 36 injured, and that authorities were searching for other missing people.
How will Iran-backed fighters retaliate?
Iran and the groups it backs in the region aim to pressure Washington to force Israel to end its crushing offensive in Gaza, but do not appear to want an all-out war. The defeat of Hamas would be a major setback for Tehran, which considers itself and its allies the main defenders of the Palestinian cause.
The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iran-backed groups, said it carried out two explosive drone attacks on Saturday against bases housing U.S. troops in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil and a post in northeastern Syria, near the border with Iraq.
The only Iranian-backed faction that has been escalating is Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have attacked American commercial ships and warships in the Red Sea with drones and ballistic missiles. The United States has carried out attacks against the Houthis in Yemen over the past two weeks. There have been no new attacks by the Houthis since the US strikes in Iraq and Syria.