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What Lurks in the Shadows of the US Military Mission in Syria?

by Lucas Garcia
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Recently, an Iranian drone attacked a U.S. base in Syria, where it killed one contractor and hurt some American troops. This was not the only attack on the U.S. forces in Syria lately; many attacks like this have happened recently, but thankfully none of our troops were injured before now.

On Thursday, a small drone was used to carry out a bombing attack. After this happened, General Erik Kurilla from the U.S said that if more attacks occur US troops would retaliate with more strikes. US soldiers have been in Syria since 2015 and with the recent incident it is clear that their mission is to stop Iranian-backed militias and make sure no new Islamic State group appears.

There are at least 900 American troops in Syria, plus some contractors. Small teams of special forces also come and go. They have all been sent to Syria to make sure the Islamic State group does not start causing trouble again. Back in 2014, the group had taken control of huge parts of Iraq and Syria.

For a long time, the USA and other countries have been fighting against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. They were working together with the Syrian Democratic Forces which is run by Kurdish people. In 2019, the USA announced that they had done away with all of ISIS, however there are still some left over who could be dangerous. There are around 10000 of them locked up in different places in Syria and lots of their family members living in refugee camps.

U.S. military forces help and protect the Syrian Defense Forces (SDF). They are also trying to stop terrorism by the Islamic State group and other terrorist groups related to al-Qaeda, as well as attacking any Iran-supported militia who attacked U.S. forces.

Russia, who supports the government in Syria, is there too but they use a special phone line so that they don’t fight each other accidentally.

Iran is one of the reasons why the U.S. has to stay in Syria. This is because Iran has a lot of power and their military strength covers the entire region, making it an issue for safety. After Islamic State group got beaten, Iran-backed fighters have gotten more powerful and they are now trying to move weapons into Lebanon which could be used against Israel by Hezbollah. The presence of American forces in Syria makes it hard to do this, so they must stay there in order to protect Israel from potential harm caused by these Iranian-backed militias.

The al-Tanf garrison in Syria is on a super important road because it connects Iranian forces from Tehran to southern Lebanon, which is near Israel. So the U.S. troops at the garrison can stop Iran from sending soldiers, weapons, and other stuff straight to the Mediterranean Sea.

The United States recently attacked a part of Syria called Deir el-Zour. It’s an area that has oil and is on the way to somewhere important. Forces loyal to Syria and Iran are there, but American troops and their allies, the SDF, are mainly on the other side of a river called the Euphrates River.

A really small drone flew below the fence, into a military base, and crashed into a building where American soldiers and workers were. The drone didn’t shoot a gun but it exploded on impact.

Tragically, one American contractor died in a conflict that happened in Syria. Additionally, five United States servicemembers and another wounded contractor were injured during the incident. The service member who got hurt returned to duty, but the other one had to get medical help outside of Syria. Contractors are normally hired to help with different tasks like fixing things or providing support with logistics.

American authorities are blaming Iran for attacking a drone, because they found some pieces of the drone and according to their intelligence analyses it was similar to other attacks by militants. People in the military talked about the operations, but only if they were anonymous.

The United States sent out F-15 fighter jets from Qatar to bomb places around Deir el-Zour in response to an attack. We don’t know how many people were hurt by the strikes, and the US won’t tell us how many casualties there were.

After the United States military did airstrikes in a response to something, 10 rockets were fired at a U.S. base called Green Village on Friday. Thankfully, nobody was hurt from the attack. A person from the Pentagon said the missiles were sent by people connected with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp but he didn’t completely blame Iran for hurting U.S. troops or injuring them either.

The U.S. puts a lot of effort into making sure its bases are safe, but they don’t give away many details about it. Many reporters who have gone to Syria have seen fencing, barricades and other high-tech gadgets like radars that keep the base secure. When asked if one radar on the base wasn’t working well, spokesperson Ryder said that the whole area still had good protection – there was a complete picture of radar coverage at all times.

Iranian drones are becoming a growing risk in Syria because they have developed many kinds of them – from small, short-range to big, long-range attack drones. They also sent some to Russia so it can use them during the conflict in Ukraine.

In December 2019, something really bad happened between the U.S. and an Iranian-led group. The United States military did a strike in Iraq and Syria that killed 25 fighters from the Iranian-backed militia called Kataeb Hezbollah. This strike was because of a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base before that which had killed an American contractor – it was the group Kataeb Hezbollah that had caused the rocket attack that led to the death of the American contractor.

In August 2022, the United States dropped bombs against groups that were backed by Iran in Deir el-Zour province. This happened because the United States thought that Iran was responsible for attacks with drones including one which targeted an army base called al-Tanf garrison. The same base was hit earlier in the year when three drones that would explode themselves attacked it and two fighters from Syria who were fighting against the government got hurt. Again, the United States believes these drone attacks were done by groups supported by Iran.

Israel has been attacking Iranian stuff in Syria. In November 2022, a convoy of trucks was bombed while transporting fuel and weapons to some militia forces in Deir el-Zour. The United States said they didn’t do it, but an Israel military person let us know that they were most likely the ones behind it.

Writers from the Associated Press (Bassem Mroue, Kareem Chehayeb, Abby Sewell and Tara Copp) worked together to put together this report; two were based in Beirut and one was located in Washington.

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