US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin left open the potential for additional strikes on Iran-linked militants if attacks on American forces in Iraq and Syria continue, hours after the United States air strikes in Syria overnight.
Late Sunday, the United States military launched its third air strike in Syria in as many weeks, targeting a training site near Albu Kamal and a safe house near Mayadeen.
The strikes come after at least 40 attacks by Iran-backed militants against the United States and coalition soldiers in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks, as regional tensions rise over the Israel-Hamas conflict. At least 45 American personnel have been injured, with at least 45 suffering traumatic brain injuries or minor wounds.
“These attacks must stop, and if they don’t stop, then we won’t hesitate to do what’s necessary, again, to protect the troops,” the Defence Secretary told reporters at a news conference in Seoul.
The recent air strikes in eastern Syria, according to Austin, targeted facilities utilized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and allied factions.
“These strikes are intended to disrupt and degrade the freedom of action of these groups, which are directly responsible for attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria,” Austin said.
There is growing danger that the Israel-Hamas battle will extend throughout the Middle East, turning American troops stationed at isolated outposts into targets for heavier armament than the tiny rockets and one-way drones seen thus far.
Since the Israel-Hamas conflict broke on Oct. 7, the United States has deployed additional air defences and sent warships and fighter aircraft to the region, including two aircraft carriers, in an attempt to discourage Iran and Iran-backed forces. The number of troops added to the region is in the thousands.
It was unclear whether anyone had been killed in the most recent American strikes in Syria. According to an American official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the United States review is underway.