American forces in Iraq and Syria have come under attack on at least 13 occasions over the past week, the Pentagon has confirmed, by militant groups armed by Iran.
In a statement Tuesday, Pentagon’s press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the incidents occurred between October 17 and October 24 and involved a combination of one-way attack drones and rockets.
In just one day (October 18), according to US Central Command, 20 American servicemen were injured in a drone attack on Al-Tanf military base in Syria and 4 more in a another drone attack on Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq.
The Department of Defense has so far not attributed these attacks to Iran, but officials have stated that there are “Iranian fingerprints all over it”.
It is an open secret that the Islamic Republic Guards Corps (IRGC) plays a prominent role in both Iraq and Syria, funding and equipping various proxies. Iranian officials regularly boast about the IRGC’s ‘reach’ in the region.
The IRGC’s Quds force, responsible for overseas operations, has a history of proxy war with American forces in the Middle East. This latest round has arisen in the wake of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which began October 7 when Hamas militants launched a terror raid into southern Israel.
The Pentagon has toughened its tone against the Iranian regime in the last few days. Brig. Gen. Ryder said on Monday that the US would hold Iran ultimately responsible for the attacks in Iraq and Syria.
However, the Biden administration still seems to be reluctant to retaliate, fearing to get itself bogged down in a prolonged and costly regional war that would further destabilize the Middle East.
And this has enraged more than a few lawmakers in Washington.
“Obama and Biden both thought they could appease Iran with billions of dollars. They were wrong,” said Senator Ron Johnson to Fox News Tuesday. “We need to recognize Iran for the malign force it is in the world and stop handing them billions.”
Senator Marsha Blackburn seconded this sentiment. “Biden’s non-response will only incentivize Iran to continue attacking our troops,” she posted on her X account Tuesday night.
Responding to the growing threats against US forces in the region, President Joe Biden ordered two aircraft carrier strike groups and anti-missile defense systems to be deployed to the region. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has also issued prepare-to-deploy orders for a number of forces to respond to any aggressions. US had also sent additional naval forces to the Persian Gulf in July to deter Iran from harassing commercial shipping.
“We will always maintain the inherent right of self-defense,” Brig. Gen. Ryder said, “and if there is a response, should we choose to have one, we would do that at a time and place of our choosing.”
The US government is under increasing Congressional pressure to respond to the targeting of its forces in Iraq and Syria. It’s not clear if the American public agrees. It probably will, however, if the attacks on US forces were to continue and especially if American lives were to be lost.
“We need to be striking back,” said Senator Chris Coons to Fox News Tuesday evening, “and we need to be prepared for the very real prospect that this will get harder before it gets easier.”
Senator Coons is a close ally of President Biden. He was shortlisted for Secretary of State alongside Blinken.
The Biden administration has so far avoided military engagement with the IRGC and its proxies in the region. But things could change if Israel goes ahead with its planned ground invasion of Gaza and draws in other actors like Hezbollah to the war scene.
Nearly 6,000 Palestinian have died in Israel’s air campaign in Gaza since the October 7 terrorist raid, which killed 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians.
International calls for unimpeded aid to Palestinians in Gaza intensified Tuesday. The United States and Canada joined almost every other country in the United Nations to appeal for a “humanitarian pause” to get aid to civilians in Gaza.