US strike in eastern Syria—follows third attack on Coalition targets
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The US struck targets in eastern Syria on Tuesday in response to the second of three attempted assaults in recent days on the Coalition helping partner forces to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The attacks appear to be carried out by elements loyal to Iran. They began pretty much to the day on the second anniversary of the Jan 3, 2020, assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
However, US officials are extremely cautious about blaming Iran or otherwise ascribing responsibility to any party for the attacks. The risk in such caution is that it just invites more aggression because there is no penalty for it.
It should also be noted that Iran and Russia have a working relationship. Iran's new hard-line president, Ebrahim Raisi, is slated to visit Moscow sometime early this year.
There is great concern in the US and Europe that with 100,000 troops mobilized on its border with Ukraine, Russia intends to invade its much smaller neighbor. Thus, the possibility exists that a crisis in one theater, like Iran, could be exploited to advance objectives in another theater, like Ukraine—or vice-versa.
Strikes in Syria
On Tuesday, the anti-ISIS Coalition issued a report noting that it had "announced last night that Coalition forces were targeted by indirect fire in areas of northeast Syria."
The "rounds did not damage any Coalition areas, but impacted civilian areas near Al Shadidi," it continued. "Four individuals suspected of being involved in last night's attacks were captured by InSF HAT and Syrian Democratic Forces near Muamal, just northeast of Dayr Az Zawr and were in possession of weapons, ammunition, and communications equipment."
The hostile attack targeted "Green Village," a Coalition base in eastern Syria, and the US responded by striking what were apparently seven Katyusha rocket sites.
Asked about the incident later on Tuesday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby explained, "One of the reasons why these sites were hit was we had reason to believe that they were going to be used as launch sites for attacks on Green Village," as he affirmed, "We always have the right of self-defense."
Kirby also affirmed that while the US mission in Iraq and Syria had formally changed from a combat to advise and assist mission, "We still believe it's a valid mission, and we look forward to continuing to conduct it."
Yet asked who was behind the attack, he responded, "I am not in a position now to get into specific attribution"—i.e. the Biden administration is unwilling to state clearly which party was likely behind the attack, although suspicion falls on Tehran, as Kirby proceeded to suggest.
"That said," he added, "we continue to see threats against our forces in Iraq and Syria by militia groups that are backed by Iran."
The US has some 900 troops in eastern Syria, divided between Green Village in the north and Al Tanf further south, as CNN reported.
Other Assaults on Coalition in Recent Days
The attack on Green Village comes as assaults on Coalition forces have markedly increased since Jan 3.
The strike on Green Village occurred on Monday. So, too, did an attack targeting Coalition forces at Baghdad International Airport. Two explosive-laden drones were used. Both were shot down.
On Tuesday, Al Assad airbase in Iraq's western Anbar province was similarly targeted, and again, both of the explosive-laden drones were shot down.
Tensions with Russia
A series of diplomatic talks are scheduled for later this week and early next week, aimed at reducing tensions with Moscow over Ukraine and Russia's broader claim that NATO is threatening Russian security.
The European Union's foreign policy head, Josep Borrell, is visiting Ukraine between Jan. 4 and 6 to show support for that country and consult with its leaders. On Jan 6, a meeting will be held in Moscow among Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France under the "Normandy Format."
On Jan 10, the US and Russia will hold bilateral talks in Geneva. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will lead the US delegation.
On Jan 12, there will be discussions between NATO and Russia in Brussels, and a third set of talks will follow on Jan 13 within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).