Iran-backed militants probably behind attacks targeting U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, Pentagon says

A spate of attacks this week on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria were probably conducted by Iran-backed militias, the Pentagon said Wednesday, stopping short of directly implicating Tehran.

There is a “working level assumption” that incidents every day this week, including rocket attacks and incursions from explosives-laden drones, were coordinated by groups trained and supplied by Iran, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

“The threat is growing,” he told reporters, adding that the drone attacks in particular have become more precise, though so far no Americans have been wounded this week.

It’s unclear what prompted the attacks, although commanders have been mindful, Kirby said, that Monday marked the anniversary of a U.S. strike that killed a revered Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani. A militant drone shot down in Baghdad the same day had “Soleimani’s revenge” written on its wing, the Associated Press reported, and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi demanded that former president Donald Trump be “prosecuted and killed” for authorizing the attack.

A rocket barrage launched Wednesday in Baghdad and western Iraq targeted bases housing U.S. troops but did not result in any casualties, defense officials said.

“We don’t know for sure” what is behind the escalation in attacks, Kirby said, adding that some militant groups have vowed to attack coalition troops remaining in the region after their combat mission was declared over last month. There are about 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq and fewer than 1,000 in Syria, he said.

Two fixed-wing drones rigged with explosives were destroyed in flight at the Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq on Tuesday, defense officials said, describing it as a failed attack. Video from the engagement appears to show one drone engaged by an air defense system known as a C-RAM, which fires a six-barreled Gatling gun up to 75 rounds per second.

The air base was the site of a 2020 retaliatory missile strike against U.S. forces after the operation that killed Soleimani. The strike, which led the United States and Iran to the brink of war, injured dozens of U.S. troops, including 69 who have received Purple Hearts for their wounds.

A base used by Syrian groups opposing President Bashar al-Assad and hosting a “small number” of coalition advisory troops was targeted by eight rounds of indirect fire Wednesday, according to a news release from Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led coalition created to dismantle the Islamic State terrorist group. Coalition officials attributed the attack to “Iran-supported malign actors.”

Troops fired six artillery rounds at the attack’s point of origin in response, the news release said. Those forces also fired at other launch sites hours before the attack.

All of the recent attacks bear telltale signs of Iranian-backed militias, from tactics to munitions, according to a U.S. defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity. “This is not something that appears to be stopping anytime soon,” the official said.

Other attacks occurred Monday as Tehran hosted a memorial for Soleimani. Iranian-backed Houthi rebels seized a ship in the Red Sea, and hackers defaced the homepage of the Jerusalem Post newspaper, replacing it with an image of a missile and a fist wearing a ring associated with Soleimani, who oversaw the Iranian military’s elite Quds Force.

Check Also

Ripple effects from drone sales force Turkey to move Ethiopian embassy

Turkey was forced to relocate its Ethiopian embassy to Kenya after increasing threat out of …