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U.S. contractor killed, 5 service members and contractor wounded in suicide drone strike in Syria

The United States launched airstrikes against Iranian-linked targets in Syria on Thursday after a U.S. contractor was killed and five U.S. service members and another contractor were wounded when a suicide drone hit a coalition base near Hasakah in the country’s northeast.

The intelligence community believes the drone to have been of Iranian origin, the Defense Department said in a statement.

The U.S. retaliated with airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria, which hit buildings that housed drone/aviation assets and vehicles used by groups affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). One activist group said the U.S. strikes killed fighters on the ground.

On Friday, rockets targeted the Conoco gas field in northeastern Syria, according to a U.S. official, injuring one American service member, who is in stable condition. Less than an hour later, said the officials, three suicide drones attacked the Green Village, a U.S. installation in the area. Two were shot down and one damaged a building. There were no injuries. Earlier Friday, a 10-rocket attack on Green Village had yielded no casualties or damage, according to U.S. officials.

During a press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Friday, President Joe Biden said, “Make no mistake, the United States does not, does not emphasize, seek conflict with Iran, but be prepared for us to act forcefully to protect our people, that’s exactly what happened last night.”

He extended condolences on the death of the U.S. contractor and wished a “speedy recovery for those who were wounded.”

Biden also told NBC News, “We’re not going to stop (fighting ISIS in the region).”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday he had ordered “precision strikes” at Biden’s command against IRGC facilities.

“The airstrikes were conducted in response to today’s attack as well as a series of recent attacks against Coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC,” said Austin.

One of the radars used to detect incoming threats at the military base near Hasakah was down for maintenance at the time of the drone attack, according to three U.S. defense officials. It’s not clear whether this vulnerability played a role in the drone reaching a populated area on the base, the officials said. 

Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, testified before Congress Thursday morning and did not disclose this attack despite the fact he had been notified of it hours earlier, according to two of the officials. He spoke about attacks by drones on bases in Iraq and Syria but did not mention this deadly attack. 

On Friday, Kirby told Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, “It’s pretty clear to us and to the intelligence community and to the Pentagon that this was an Iranian one-way drone attack. We’ve been able to identify that with certainty.”

Two service members wounded in the Thursday attack were treated at the base near Hasakah, while three others and the wounded contractor were evacuated to medical facilities in Iraq. Defense Department spokesperson Lt. Col. Philip Ventura said the wounded were in stable condition.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based opposition war monitor that relies on local sources, reported that the U.S. airstrikes killed 11 fighters on the ground.

Six Iranian-backed militiamen were killed in a strike on a warehouse in the Harabesh district located in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, the observatory said. It added that three fighters were killed at a military post near the town of Boukamal bordering Iraq, where Iranian militia are thought to be based, and two other fighters were killed on the outskirts of Mayadeen, a town in the same region.

NBC News has not verified the reports.

The U.S. has struck targets affiliated with Iran in Syria previously under the Biden administration.

Gen. Kurilla, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said Thursday in testimony to Congress that there have been 78 attacks against facilities housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria since January 2021. The attacks, mainly by drones and rockets, are believed to have been carried out by Iran or Iranian-backed proxies.

Iran has previously denied any role, and has not acknowledged Thursday’s strikes.

Kurilla — testifying before the House Armed Services Committee earlier Thursday — cautioned about Iran’s fleet of drones, which have been used by Russia in its war on Ukraine and suspected of being deployed in attacks across the Middle East.

“The Iranian regime now holds the largest and most capable unmanned aerial vehicle force in the region,” he said.

U.S. forces entered Syria in 2015, backing allied forces in their fight against the Islamic State terrorist group.

There are roughly 900 U.S. troops, and even more contractors, in Syria, including in the north and farther south and east.

Armed Russian jets have flown over a U.S. military garrison in Syria nearly every day in March, violating a four-year-old agreement between the U.S. and Russia and risking escalation, the U.S. general in charge of air operations in the region told NBC News earlier this week.

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Written by Townreels

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