The US military has deployed serious firepower in an engagement against Iranian-backed militants in Syria that has left four enemy combatants dead and three US service members injured in the past 24 hours., defense officials said.
An unknown number of AC-130 gunships, AH-64 Apache helicopters and M777s have been used to strike Iran-backed groups in the past 24 hours, US Central Command said in a statement on Thursday. Press.
“We will respond appropriately and proportionately to attacks on our military,” Army Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, head of CENTCOM, said in a statement. “No group will strike our troops with impunity. We will take all necessary measures to defend our people.
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The CENTCOM press release did not specify how many AC-130, Apache and M777 howitzers were part of the current operation against Iranian-backed militias in Syria. A CENTCOM spokesperson told Task & Purpose that the command does not provide any information beyond its press release.
The fact that AC-130 gunships have been used against Iranian-backed militants is a significant development. Often used to support US Special Operations Forces, AC-130J “Ghostrider” gunboats are heavily armed with 30mm and 105mm guns and other weapons.
Many American soldiers who served in Afghanistan owe their lives to the sheer volume of fire the AC-130s can unleash. In September 2019, a single AC-130J crew was able to save the lives of 88 American and Afghan special operators by preventing enemy fighters from launching ambushes for almost two precious hours. Five crew members received Distinguished Flying Crosses and four others received Air Medals.
But like any weapon system, the AC-130s are only as accurate as the information they have in the heat of battle, and when US special operations forces helped Afghan troops retake Kunduz from the Taliban in October 2015, an AC-130 accidentally attacked a Médecins Sans Frontières hospitalkilling 42 people.
Air Force Brigadier. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said the recent use of AC-130 gunships in Syria does not indicate that the level of violence in the country has escalated. Ryder also declined to say how many AC-130s and Apache helicopters took part in recent operations in Syria.
“We maintain a variety of platforms in the region to provide any type of support we may need,” Ryder said during a Pentagon press briefing. “Of course, the AC-130 gunship is one of those capabilities.”
The scale of the fighting against Iran-based militants is not known. US troops in Syria have participated in “multiple self-defense engagements” over the past 24 hours, Ryder said. In the first engagement, which came in response to a rocket attack, two or three enemy fighters were killed, he said.
“There were follow-up vigilante engagements, which targeted Iran-affiliated militants, attempting to target US forces with emplaced rockets,” Ryder said. “Before they could launch their attack, US forces engaged them with air and artillery assets. And so, we estimate there was one additional fatality, for a total of four.
Ryder also said Iran-backed groups appear to be testing US forces to see how they will respond to attacks.
“I think based on the strikes that we took, we sent a very loud and clear message and a proportionate message that any threat to our forces operating in Syria or elsewhere will not be tolerated,” Ryder said. “I hope they got the message out loud and clear and that it will be an episode rather than a sequel.”
US troops are deployed in Syria to prevent the resurgence of the Islamic State terror group, but Iran and its proxies also have forces in the country to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Under the last two presidential administrations, the US military has launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed groups such as Kait’ib Hezbollah and Kait’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada in Syria and Iraq. After such an airstrike in June 2021, US troops in Iraq and Syria have been repeatedly attacked with rockets.
The latest cycle of attacks and counter-attacks began on Tuesday, when the US military launched airstrikes on Deir ez-Zor in Syria against Iranian-backed groups in response to recent attacks on US troops, including a drone attack on August 15 near the Al-Tanf garrison in eastern Syria.
US military dropped bomb on militant compound to destroy nine bunkers, unnamed official told the New York Times. Two other bunkers were removed from the target list as unidentified people were spotted nearby just before the strike.
“Over the past few weeks, malicious outside actors have taken hostile action against the coalition and our partners with increasing frequency,” Major General of the Army. General John Brennan, which leads US troops in Iraq and Syria, said in a statement Thursday. “We will not tolerate these brazen attacks and will respond aggressively using all means at our disposal to protect and defend ourselves, our partners and innocent civilians. Such malign activities only serve to distract us in our collective campaign to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS and unnecessarily endanger innocent civilians and our homeland.
Following airstrikes on Deir ez-Zor, US troops at two bases in Syria have come under rocket attack, CENTCOM said on Wednesday. A U.S. service member was lightly injured and returned to duty and two other U.S. soldiers were being evaluated for minor injuries, the command said at the time.
The US military used attack helicopters to destroy three vehicles and equipment used to launch the rockets, according to CENTCOM, which initially estimated that two or three suspected Iranian-backed militants were killed.
“The response has been proportionate and deliberate,” a CENTCOM press release from Wednesday said. “The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we will continue to take the necessary steps to protect and defend our people.”
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