US airstrikes on pro-Iranian facilities in Syria leave 19 fighters dead
The death toll from US airstrikes on pro-Iranian facilities in eastern Syria has risen to 19 fighters, a Syrian war monitor said Saturday, in one of the deadliest battles between US and Iran-allied forces in years.
The US carried out strikes in eastern Syria in response to a drone attack on Thursday that left one American contractor dead, and another one wounded along with five US troops. Washington said the attack was of Iranian origin.
The retaliatory strikes by the US on what it said were facilities in Syria used by groups affiliated to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps left a total of 19 dead, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The war monitor said air raids killed three Syrian troops, 11 Syrian fighters in pro-government militias and five non-Syrian fighters who were aligned with the government.
Iran's state Press TV said no Iranians had been killed and quoted local sources as saying the target was not an Iran-aligned military post, but that a rural development center and a grain center near a military airport had been hit.
The initial exchange prompted a string of tit-for-tat strikes. Another US service member was wounded, according to officials, and local sources said suspected US rocket fire hit more locations in eastern Syria.
President Joe Biden on Friday warned Iran that the United States would "act forcefully" to protect Americans.
Asked whether there should be a higher cost for Iran, Biden replied: "We’re not going to stop."
Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar al-Assad during Syria's 12-year conflict.
Iran's proxy militias, including Lebanese group Hezbollah and pro-Tehran Iraqi groups, hold sway in swathes of eastern, southern and northern Syria and in suburbs around the capital.
Tehran's growing entrenchment in Syria has drawn regular Israeli air strikes but American aerial raids are more rare. The US has been raising the alarm about Iran's drone program.
The violence could further aggravate already strained relations between Washington and Tehran, as attempts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers stalled, and Iranian drones being used by Russia against Ukraine.