US conducts airstrikes against Iran-backed groups in Syria, retaliating for attacks on US troops

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attends a welcome ceremony before an annual security meeting with South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik at the Defense Ministry in Seoul, on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon and U.S. officials say U.S. fighter aircraft conducted airstrikes on locations in eastern Syria involving Iranian-backed groups, likely causing casualties and destroying weapons stored at the two targets that were struck — a training facility and a safe house.

A defense official said that the training facility also served as a weapons storage and that the safe house, located in the Bulbul district of Mayadin, functioned as a headquarters for Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-affiliated groups in the area. The official said Revolutionary Guard-related personnel were present at the time of the strikes and likely were hit, but the Pentagon had not confirmed whether they were killed.

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The defense official spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to provide additional details of the strikes.

The U.S. has conducted three strikes over the last two weeks against Iranian-tied weapons depots in Syria to retaliate for the more than 50 rocket and drone attacks that militant groups have launched against U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria, which have caused dozens of minor injuries among U.S. personnel. Many of the militant groups are operating under the umbrella of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq.

The militant groups began attacking the bases on Oct. 17 after a blast at a Gaza hospital killed hundreds of civilians and further enflamed regional tensions following Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks inside Israel, where at least 1,200 civilians were killed, and Israel's blistering military response, which has killed thousands of civilians trapped in Gaza.

In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes targeted sites near Abukama and Mayadin and were used by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as well as Iran-backed militias.

President Joe Biden "has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. personnel, and he directed today’s action to make clear that the United States will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests,” Austin said.

According to the Pentagon, about 56 U.S. personnel have been injured in the attacks in Syria and Iraq, but all have returned to duty. Their injuries are a combination of traumatic brain injury and other minor wounds.