The Pentagon said Tuesday that US troops stationed in Iraq and Syria have been attacked 13 times within a week as the US is backing Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.
Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said between October 17 and 24, troops in Iraq came under attack 10 times while troops in Syria were attacked three times. A mix of drones and rockets have targeted the US bases.
US Central Command later told NBC News that 24 US troops sustained injuries in the attacks. In one incident, a civilian contractor at the Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq died of cardiac arrest during a false alarm.
A group that calls itself the Islamic Resistance of Iraq has taken credit for some of the attacks, but the US has not attributed blame to a specific group. The US is blaming the attacks on Iranian “proxy forces,” referring to the Shia militias that operate in Iraq and Syria.
The White House has accused Iran of “actively facilitating” the attacks on US troops. But Ryder acknowledged on Monday that the US has no evidence Iran was directing the operations. “We don’t necessarily see that Iran has explicitly ordered them to take these kinds of attacks,” Ryder said.
The US is expecting the attacks to escalate as Israel is ramping up airstrikes in Gaza and preparing to invade the besieged enclave. A US official told CNN on Monday that there are “red lights flashing everywhere.”
The CNN report acknowledged that the Shia militias in the region are not a monolith and can act on their own. One source said that how willing the groups are to act independently is always a “persistent intelligence gap” for the US. Regardless, the US is making clear it will hold Iran responsible for any escalation and is warning it will respond, signaling there’s a risk the US could target Iran directly.
“The road leads back to Iran. Iran funds, arms, equips and trains militias and proxy forces all across the region … We are preparing for this escalation, both in terms of defending our forces and being prepared to respond decisively,” a senior Pentagon official said.
The US has about 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria. The continued presence of US forces in the region has always been a potential tripwire for a wider war, especially in Syria, where Russia and Iran also have a military presence. The US backs the Kurdish-led SDF in Syria, allowing the US to occupy about one-third of Syria’s territory, where most of the country’s oil resources are located.