More US troops injured at bases in Iraq and Syria as attacks continue, Pentagon says
Stars and Stripes November 9, 2023
WASHINGTON — More American troops have been injured at U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria as rocket and drone attacks by militant groups continue, the Pentagon said Thursday.
Militant groups aligned with Iran have targeted U.S. bases in the two countries dozens of times since mid-October after Hamas attacked Israel, Pentagon officials said. The strikes have caused no serious injuries to American personnel, though the number of troops hurt has increased in recent days.
Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters that there have been 46 separate attacks to date — 24 in Iraq and 22 in Syria, where troops have been stationed as part of the military’s campaign to defeat the Islamic State group. That is up from the 38 attacks reported earlier this week. The attacks have injured at least 56 U.S. personnel at the bases, Singh said, an increase from the 46 reported Monday. The injuries range from head injuries to more minor ailments such as twisted ankles and perforated ear drums, officials said.
Pentagon officials have said the casualty figures often fluctuate because not all injuries are immediately apparent and sometimes it takes days for service members to notice symptoms. Three of the injuries occurred in the last 24 hours, Singh said.
“This action is aimed at disrupting and degrading the capabilities of groups directly responsible for attacking U.S. forces in the region,” a senior defense official said of the most recent strike. “By specifically targeting [Iran]-associated facilities, we seek to convey a clear message to Iran that we hold it accountable for the attacks on U.S. forces, and we expect Iran to take measures to direct its proxies to stop.”
The increase in attacks is happening against a backdrop of rising tensions in the Middle East. The United States is providing military aid to Israel in its fight against Hamas, but the Pentagon has been reluctant to say the attacks on U.S. bases or the U.S. counterstrikes are related to the Israeli conflict.
“These are defensive strikes. They are not connected to what Israel is doing in its efforts against Hamas,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday. “If the attacks against our forces don’t decrease or stop, we will take additional measures. … We are going to do everything we can to protect our troops, and we are absolutely serious about that.”
“Our objectives are, one, to prevent regional escalation and prevent a widening of the conflict. And No. 2, to defend U.S. forces from Iran and Iran-aligned militia group attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria,” a senior defense official said.
Before the airstrike in Syria on Wednesday, the Pentagon said Houthi rebels in Yemen had shot down a U.S. drone that was flying a mission over the area. The MQ-9 Reaper drone crashed in the Red Sea off the Yemeni coast, but Singh said it’s doubtful the rebels would be able to glean “anything of significance” from the weapon.
The Houthis are another Iranian-backed militant group that has been carrying out attacks since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas against Israel. The United States has sent various forces into the Middle East recently to deter other countries or groups from escalating the Israel-Hamas conflict, including two aircraft carrier strike groups, at least one nuclear-powered submarine and numerous aircraft, including F-16s.