Washington, Oct 27: The US military struck two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups in reponse to a series of recent attacks that targeted American forces in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
In the statement issued on Thursday night, he said the precision self-defence strikes carried out earlier in the day at President Joe Biden’s direction, were a "response to a series of ongoing and mostly unsuccessful attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria by Iranian-backed militia groups that began on October 17".
"As a result of these attacks, one US citizen contractor died from a cardiac incident while sheltering in place; 21 US personnel suffered from minor injuries, but all have since returned to duty.
"The President has no higher priority than the safety of US personnel, and he directed today’s action to make clear that the US will not tolerate such attacks and will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests," Austin was quoted as saying in the statement.
The Defense Secretary also reiterated that the "US does not seek conflict and has no intention nor desire to engage in further hostilities, but these Iranian-backed attacks are unacceptable and must stop".
"Iran wants to hide its hand and deny its role in these attacks against our forces. We will not let them. If attacks by Iran’s proxies against US forces continue, we will not hesitate to take further necessary measures to protect our people," he warned.
He further said that the US strikes "were intended solely to protect and defend" American personnel in Iraq and Syria.
"They are separate and distinct from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, and do not constitute a shift in our approach" to the raging war, Austin added.
As of Thursday, American forces had come under attack at least 12 separate times in Iraq and four separate times in Syria since October 17.
On Wednesday, Biden issued a strong warning to Iran about its affiliated groups attacking American forces in the region, CNN reported.
“My warning to the ayatollah was that if they continued to move against those troops, we will respond, and they should be prepared.”
The President added presence of US troops in Iraq and Syria is focused on the campaign to defeat the Islamic State terrorist group and is not related to the ongoing conflict in Israel.
As a result of the increased attacks, the Defense Department is rushing additional air defenses to the Middle East, including a THAAD battery -- a medium-range air defense system; long-range Patriot batteries; and short-range Avenger air defense systems.
Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said on Thursday that the US “will always reserve the right to self-defense” and that if Washington chooses to retaliate for the drone and rocket attacks, it would be “at a time and place of our choosing".