Iranian-Backed Militia Claims New Attack On U.S. Base In Syria

Iranian-backed militias launched a drone attack on a U.S. outpost in eastern Syria Sunday, killing at least six Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) troops and wounding many others stationed there, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed group said. The drone strike came days after the U.S. dropped 125 munitions on at least 85 targets in Iraq and Syria in the first wave of what is was expected to be a sustained campaign designed to reduce the ability of these militias to carry out such attacks. Regardless, those strikes were in response to the Jan. 28 drone strike on a U.S. base in Jordan that killed three American soldiers and wounded more than 40 others.

Sunday’s drone attack on the U.S. base at the Al-Omar oil fields “is the first response by Iranian militias to American bases after American airstrikes on militia positions in various areas within areas they control,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The loose-knit group of Iranian-backed militias called Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI) claimed credit for Monday’s attack. IRI is considered by the U.S. to be responsible for the drone strike that killed Sgt. William J. Rivers, Sgt. Kennedy L. Saunders and Sgt. Breonna A. Moffett in the Jan. 28 attack on Tower 22 in Jordan as well as many of the more than 160 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.

“Initial investigations have confirmed that the Iranian-backed militias were behind the one-way UAV terrorist attack against our forces in the Al-Omar oil field in Deir Ezzor,” SDF spokesman Farhad Shami said on Twitter. “The Iranian-backed militias used the Syrian regime-controlled areas in Deir Ezzor as a staging ground for the terrorist attack that targeted our Commando Academy and resulted in the martyrdom of six of our Commando fighters.”

The drone attack “was an organized act aimed primarily at hindering our joint operations against terrorism,” Shami added. “The sole beneficiary of this act is ISIS. We are determined to fulfill our promise to our martyrs and respond to the terrorist attack.”

The War Zone cannot independently verify the claim and we’ve reached out to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) for more details.

The SDF says six of its commandos were killed at the U.S. base at the Al-Omar oil fields in Eastern Syria. (Google Earth image)

The SDF, a predominantly Kurdish military organization, was a key force in the U.S.-led effort to defeat ISIS. Though its so-called caliphate carved out of portions of Iraq and Syria was largely defeated, at least geographically, in 2019, ISIS remains a threat and the SDF continues its fight against them in Syria. The U.S. still has about 2,500 troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria leading that effort.

According to SOHR, the U.S.-led international coalition fighting ISIS “brought in military reinforcement from Kurdistan Region of Iraq through Al-Walid border crossing to International Coalition base in Tel Baydar in northern Al-Hasakah countryside. The convoy comprised 15 trucks carrying cement blocks, logistical and medical materials and military equipment.” 

Ground and air reinforcements “continue to arrive at the coalition bases in northern Syria to fortify the bases from the attacks they are exposed to, as part of the campaign of ‘revenge for Gaza’ adopted by the so-called ‘Islamic resistance’ and Iranian militias,” SOHR reported.

The War Zone cannot independently verify that claim.

The attack on the Al-Omar oil field base came as the region braces for additional U.S. airstrikes on the personnel and facilities of the  Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and their proxies.

“This was about degrading capability, taking away in a more robust way than we have in the past, capabilities by the IRGC,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters, including from The War Zone, Friday night. “They’re not going to end tonight. So there will be additional responses. There will be additional actions that we will take all designed to put an end to these attacks and to take away capability by the IRGC.”

On Sunday, National Security advisor Jake Sullivan reiterated more attacks will take place and declined to rule out strikes inside Iran.

Iranian officials dismissed the possibility of direct negotiations with the U.S. and continued their assertion that the militia groups were acting independently of Tehran.

Tehran and Washington have exchanged messages through intermediaries, but not directly, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kana’ani said Monday, according to the official Iranian FARS news agency.

Kana’ani told reporters on Monday that Iran does not seek “tension” with any country, and has “no proxy” in West Asia, hitting back at the United States for pursuing its own agendas in the region.

“Washington has received our message. We have given straightforward responses. The paths to de-escalation of the crisis and reduction of tensions are clear. The center of the conflict is definite. The US is not part of the solution, but part of the crisis,” he added.

Meanwhile, the fight against the Iranian-backed Houthis continued over the weekend.

On Feb. 4, at approximately 5:30 a.m. local time, “U.S. Central Command forces conducted a strike in self-defense against a Houthi a land attack cruise missile,” the command said on Twitter. “Beginning at 10:30 a.m. U.S. forces struck four anti-ship cruise missiles, all of which were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea. U.S. forces identified the missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to U.S. Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region. These actions will protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for U.S. Navy vessels and merchant vessels.”

Those attacks followed additional preemptive strikes against the Houthis on Saturday as well as a pre-planned strike by the U.S. and U.K. against against 36 Houthi targets at 13 locations in Iranian-backed Houthi terrorist-controlled areas of Yemen.

Some of those strike have reportedly hit an abandoned waterfront amusement park in Yemen that the Houthis have apparently been using to launch attacks against shipping.

The continuing attacks against the Houthis, both pre-planned and preemptive, highlights the challenges the U.S. and allies face in trying to reduce the Yemen-based jihadi group’s ability to keep launching strikes against Red Sea shipping.

The same questions can be asked about the U.S. campaign against the groups that have been attacking it in Iraq and Syria.

It remains to be seen when the next wave of U.S. airstrikes against Iranian assets and proxies in Iraq and Syria will take place, but if the attack on the Al-Omar oil fields is any indication, the previous strikes have done little to deter these groups so far.

How much additional strikes will deter attacks on U.S. forces remains to be seen.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.