US forces attacked in northeast Syria, respond to rocket fire

The embattled eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor. (Photo: AFP)
The embattled eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor. (Photo: AFP)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Multiple rocket attacks were launched against a US military site in northeast Syria, Col. Wayne Marotto, Spokesman for the US-led Coalition against ISIS, confirmed early on Tuesday to Kurdistan 24. However, no one was injured, he said.

“At approx. 7:44 PM local time, US Forces in Syria were attacked by multiple rockets,” Marotto told Kurdistan 24. “There are no injuries, and damage is being assessed. We will provide updates when we have more information.”

US troops did respond to the attack, as Marotto explained. “While under multiple rocket attack,” they “acted in self-defense and conducted counter-battery artillery fire at [the] rocket launching positions.”

The Syria-based Deir al Zor media center in a Facebook post linked the assault to Tehran. “Iran shelled the US base” in the Omar oil field in Syria’s Deir al-Zor province, it said.

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) control territory east of the Euphrates River while pro-regime and Iranian-backed forces dominate the western banks, including Deir al-Zor city.

The attack followed a day after the Pentagon announced, on Sunday, that it had launched airstrikes on three sites close to the Iraqi-Syrian border that are used by Iraqi militias backed by Iran.

Read More: US launches limited airstrikes on Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria

"The Iranian-backed forces in Deir Azzour are feeling under pressure from the United States and want to signal to the Biden team that eastern Syria is not a free fire zone for US forces," said Nicholas A. Heras, a Senior Analyst and Program Head for State Resilience and Fragility at the Washington, DC-based Newlines Institute.

"The Iranians are trying to make it clear that there are rules to the road in eastern Syria and that if the US pushes too hard, Iran can strike back at Coalition forces easily," Heras told Kurdistan 24. "This tat-for-tat situation is an attempt at negotiation through arms with Washington by Tehran."

US officials repeatedly portrayed Sunday's strikes on the Iraq-Syria border as a major action against the militias that would deter future assaults.

“Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting US interests in Iraq, the President directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement released on Sunday night. 

“The United States took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation - but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” Kirby continued.

But even before Monday’s rocket attack on the US base in northeast Syria, reporters were skeptical.

Earlier that day, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the press, following a ministerial conference of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition in Italy.

A New York Times reporter challenged Blinken on Sunday’s strikes on the sites used by the pro-Iran militias.

“The Biden administration conducted similar strikes in February calling them a deterrent, but attacks on US forces continued,” he noted, asking Blinken if the US was “prepared to escalate its response, if these strikes do not deter continued attacks?”

Blinken did not respond to the question directly. Rather, he affirmed, “We took necessary, appropriate, deliberate action that is designed to limit the risk of escalation, but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message.”

It appears, however, that the US strikes failed to convey that message.

“US officials have said the American airstrikes carried out a night earlier were meant to stem militia attacks on US forces,” The Washington Post noted in its report.

But Sunday’s strike was very limited, and “the Iran-backed groups have sworn revenge, raising the prospect of a further escalation,” the Post said.

Editing by Laurie Mylroie