Members of 5th Special Forces Group conduct weapons training during counter Islamic State operations at al-Tanf garrison in southern Syria in November 2017.

Members of 5th Special Forces Group conduct weapons training during counter Islamic State operations at al-Tanf garrison in southern Syria in November 2017. (Defense Department)

WASHINGTON — U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria have been attacked by militant groups almost two dozen times in the past two weeks amid growing unrest in the Middle East, a Pentagon official said Monday.

U.S. and coalition bases in Iraq and Syria have seen a dramatic increase in rocket and drone attacks since the militant group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, which sparked a campaign by Israel that has included the bombing of Gaza and a potential ground invasion of the Palestinian territory. The Pentagon has said there had been several attacks on American and coalition forces in Syria and Iraq since the fighting started between Israel and Hamas. On Monday, a senior defense official said the number of attacks has increased to 23.

“From Oct. 17 to [today], U.S. and coalition forces have been attacked at least 14 separate times in Iraq and nine separate times in Syria,” said the official, who gave updated details about the attacks on condition of anonymity. “Many of these attacks were successfully disrupted by our military. Most failed to reach their targets thanks to our robust defenses.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters later Monday that three of the new attacks in Syria occurred in recent days at bases in Green Village and al-Shaddadi. The number of attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria on Thursday had reached 16. Some of the previous attacks on the bases resulted in minor injuries to American personnel, but it wasn’t clear Monday whether the new attacks caused new injuries.

“Most of those attacks have been unsuccessful,” the defense official said. “U.S. forces remain on our bases in a campaign to support local forces for the ‘defeat ISIS’ mission.”

The new attacks came after President Joe Biden ordered two F-16s on Thursday to carry out a pair of airstrikes against targets in eastern Syria, which the Pentagon called “focused precision proportionate attacks.” They occurred near al-Boukamal and officials said the F-16s struck two weapons and ammunition storage areas. The senior defense official said Monday that those locations in Syria were chosen because they presented targets of opportunity.

“It’s not about the location. It’s about Iran and the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps], who use infrastructure, militants and proxies on the ground across the Middle East to include both Iraq and Syria,” the official said.

The Pentagon said the attacks against American bases are being carried out by proxy groups supported by Iran and the IRGC, the country’s main military apparatus.

“Iran’s objective for a long time has been to force the withdrawal of the U.S. military from the region. We are still there,” the senior defense official said. ‘[We want] Iran’s senior leaders to direct its proxies and militias to stand down and stop these attacks and we have backed it up with the use of force.”

Since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, the United States has sent numerous shipments of military aid to Israel, including air-defense equipment such as Iron Dome and Patriot batteries. On Monday, the senior defense official said the U.S. military aid falls into three main categories — air defense, artillery and precision-guided munitions. Last week, the Pentagon said it will send two Iron Dome batteries that the Army has in Washington state, but the official said Monday that they have not yet arrived. Two Patriot batteries, however, have been delivered.

“There are shipments arriving every single day,” the defense official said. “We are looking at every possible way to get Israel what it needs, as fast as we can get it to them.”

The United States said its movements in the Middle East are intended to do three things — support Israel, protect American forces and deter escalation in the region. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sent pre-deployment orders to about 2,000 service members earlier this month, notifying them that they could be sent to the Middle East at any time to support the U.S. mission. A few days ago, the Pentagon said about 900 have so far been deployed, but none will go into Israel or Gaza.

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Doug G. Ware covers the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. He has many years of experience in journalism, digital media and broadcasting and holds a degree from the University of Utah. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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