US Secretary of Defence Lloyd AustinImage Source : AP

9 fighters killed after US launches retaliatory airstrikes at Iran-backed facility in Syria

According to US officials, Iran-backed groups have carried out at least 40 such attacks at bases housing US troops in Syria since October 17. Although the US wants to deter Iranian aggression fuelled by the Israel-Hamas war, it is also working to avoid sparking a wider conflict.

by · India TV

The United States launched an airstrike on a facility used by Iran-backed militias in Syria on Wednesday, in response to an increasing number of attacks on bases housing US troops, according to the US Department of Defence.

In an official statement, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that military forces conducted a "self-defence strike" on the facility in eastern Syria used by Iran and affiliated groups. Two US F-15s were used to strike a weapons storage facility.

"This precision self-defense strike is a response to a series of attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria by IRGC-Quds Force affiliates. The President has no higher priority than the safety of US personnel, and he directed today's action to make clear that the United States will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests," he said.

The Defence Secretary further affirmed that the US is fully prepared to take "necessary measures" to protect their own people and facilities, and urged against any escalation of hostilities.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), at least nine people affiliated with Iran-backed groups were killed in the US strikes, reports the Times of Israel.

This is the second time that the US has bombed facilities used by militant groups, especially those operating under Iran, amid the Israel-Hamas war. US officials have said that Iran-backed groups have carried out at least 40 such attacks in the region since October 17.

Previous US strike in Syria

In late October, US F-16 fighter jets carried out precision strikes at weapons and ammunition storage areas that were connected to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of Iran. 

A senior defense official said the sites were chosen because the IRGC stores the types of munitions there that were used in the strikes against US bases and troops. The two officials briefed reporters after the strikes on condition of anonymity to provide details on the mission that had not yet been made public.

The US wants to hit Iranian-backed groups suspected of targeting the US as strongly as possible to deter future aggression, possibly fueled by Israel's war against Hamas, while also working to avoid inflaming the region and provoking a wider conflict.

Israeli airstrikes in Syria

According to the Times of Israel, three fighters were reportedly killed in separate airstrikes by Israel and the US in Syria targeting Iran-backed groups.  Syrian state media had earlier reported that Israeli airstrikes hit several Syrian military positions on Wednesday.

Israel, which has vowed to stop Iranian entrenchment in their neighbouring country, has carried out hundreds of strikes on targets in government-controlled parts of neighboring Syria in recent years, but it rarely acknowledges them.

The Israeli air strikes killed three Iranian fighters, as they hit sites belonging to the Hezbollah terror group near the Syrian capital Damascus, a war monitor said. Israel also struck Syrian air defense sites in the country’s southern Sweida province.

Other clashes

Meanwhile, a US drone was shot down by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Wednesday, according to the Iran-backed group’s military arm and a senior U.S. military official. The Houthis said it was an MQ-9 Reaper drone that was in Yemeni air space and was shot down by air defenses. 

The Houthis have fired at least four batches of drones and missiles toward southern Israel since October 7 and have vowed to launch further strikes towards the Jewish country in the coming days in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Although an end to the war seems to be out of sight, US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said that Israel is likely to maintain a military presence in Gaza for a “period of time” after the ongoing war, but it would be a “mistake” for Israel to re-occupy the territory.

"We know what we don’t want to see in Gaza post-conflict, we don’t want to see Hamas in control, and we don’t want to see a re-occupation by Israel,” he said.

(with input from agencies)

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