An F-15E Strike Eagle takes off in June 2019 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho.

An F-15E Strike Eagle takes off in June 2019 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. (Jeremy Mosier/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. launched an airstrike on a facility in eastern Syria linked to Iran-backed militants in response to an increasing number of recent attacks against U.S. forces in the Middle East, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

“The United States is fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities. We urge against any escalation,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement about the U.S. attack.

The strike was carried out by two F-15 fighter jets against a weapons storage facility in Maysulun, according to a senior U.S. military official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity. The official watched the engagement and believed there were some secondary explosions indicating the facility was housing weapons used against U.S. forces in the region.

“We’d been watching it for a bit to ensure that when we struck the target, we would strike it at a time that we would be able to eliminate the use of the facility to [Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps] and do so with the minimal number of casualties,” the military official said. “We are very certain this did not involve civilian loss and that the personnel, if they were there, were associated with the IRGC.”

The strike came on the same day that the Houthis, an Iranian-backed militant group that has been fighting a civil war against the government in Yemen, shot down a U.S. MQ-9 reaper drone. A senior military official said the drone was shot down over the Red Sea, which borders Yemen to the west.

This is the second time in weeks that the U.S. has targeted facilities used by Iran-backed militant groups.

On Oct. 26, the U.S. launched airstrikes on two locations near al-Boukmal in eastern Syria on weapons and ammunition facilities aligned with Iranian militia, a senior U.S. military official said at the time.

“No one should question the readiness of the Department of Defense with additional options to defend our forces and our interests or President [Joe] Biden’s willingness to direct additional self-defense strikes,” said a senior U.S. defense official on Wednesday who also spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.

The number of attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria have continued to rise since Oct. 17. Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh on Tuesday said 40 attacks have occurred since then, 22 in Iraq and 18 in Syria. Forty-six service members have been injured by drone or rocket attacks in the two countries, Singh said. Among the injuries, 25 were cases of traumatic brain injuries and 21 were considered to be minor.

Recently, the U.S. military deployed an additional 1,200 troops to the Middle East to support Israel and protect other troops in the region. But the Pentagon has said their primary objective is to deter other groups and countries from escalating the war between Israel and the militant group Hamas, which is backed by Iran. The American service members in Iraq and Syria are part of the U.S. forces in the region deployed to support the ongoing campaign against the Islamic State group.

However, the Pentagon also has mobilized other U.S. military forces to the region after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, including fighter jets and two Navy aircraft carrier strike groups. The Pentagon said Sunday that an Ohio-class, nuclear-powered submarine had also arrived in the region. Defense officials said last week that the U.S. is flying drones over Gaza — the Hamas-controlled territory southwest of Israel — searching for the roughly 200 hostages taken by the militant group. So far, only a few hostages have been released.

Hamas killed more than 1,400 people in the Oct. 7 attack. Since then, retaliatory Israeli airstrikes have killed scores of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

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Matthew Adams covers the Defense Department at the Pentagon. His past reporting experience includes covering politics for The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and The News and Observer. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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