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U.S. in Syria: Iran-Linked Militia Attacks and Anti-Islamic State Operations
Recent attacks against American forces and operations against Islamic State militants illustrate the complex security challenges the U.S. continues to face in Syria. The U.S. intervened in 2014 during the time when ISIS was able to control vast areas of both Syria and Iraq. Although victory was declared over the ISIS caliphate in 2019, the troops remain in Syria to this day. In early March, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, made a visit to the region to make a firsthand assessment of the U.S. mission in Syria. He was quoted as saying that U.S. forces along with their Kurdish-Syrian partners established a lasting presence to guarantee that ISIS is not able to reconstitute as a serious military force in the region. The Chairman would also say that the presence of American troops is “worth the risk” as American troops in the region also face threats from Iranian-linked actors
In a March 23rd press release, the Department of Defense announced that U.S. forces in Syria launched an airstrike against bases used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) after a UAV attacked a maintenance facility on a coalition base that resulted in the death of one US contractor and the wounding of five American soldiers.
Within hours of the announcement of the strike, it was reported that another US base near the Al-Omar Oil Field came under rocket attack without any U.S. casualties announced.
The head of US Central Command (CENTCOM), General Erik Kurilla, testified in front of Congress that there have been 78 attacks by Iranian proxies against US forces since January 2021. However, only three of the attacks merited a response by the Biden administration. In a strongly worded statement, Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged the Biden Administration to “restore our deterrence against Iran or face devastating consequences.”
Following the late March attack on U.S. forces in Syria, the Department of Defense stated that American troops are primarily in the area to “ensure the lasting defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.”
On April 3rd, a drone strike killed Khalid Aydd Ahmad al-Jabouri, a senior leader of the Islamic State. A statement released by the Defense Department said that his death “will temporarily disrupt the organization’s ability to plot external attacks.” CENTCOM claimed that the individual was “responsible for planning ISIS attacks into Europe and developed the leadership structure for ISIS.”
A couple of weeks later, on April 17, CENTCOM again revealed details about a helicopter raid in northern Syria that killed Abd-al-Hadi Mahmud al-Haji, who was described as “a senior ISIS Syria leader and operational planner responsible for planning terror attacks in the Middle East and Europe.” The statement also mentioned two other Islamic State militants who were killed in the operation.