The US military carried out strikes against two facilities in eastern Syria used by Iranian-backed groups in retaliation for recent attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria.

“The United States does not seek conflict and has no intention or desire to engage in further hostilities, but these Iran-backed attacks against U.S. forces are unacceptable and must stop,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Thursday evening.

According to the Pentagon, Iran-backed groups have attacked U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria at least 16 times since Oct. 17 using a mix of drones and missiles. The latest attack occurred on Thursday in Erbil, Iraq, but no injuries were reported.

Nineteen U.S. soldiers were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries, and two others suffered minor injuries as a result of the attacks. All troops have returned to duty.

A U.S. contractor died of cardiac arrest last week while seeking shelter at Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq. In this case, the warning that triggered the lockdown was a false alarm and no attack occurred.

The rise in attacks comes amid international fears that the war between Israel and Hamas could expand into a larger conflict spanning the entire Middle East.

President Biden warned on Wednesday that the US would respond if the attacks continued.

“My warning to the Ayatollah was that if they continue to act against these forces, we will respond and he should be prepared,” Biden said. “It has nothing to do with Israel.”

U.S. forces conduct military training for members of the Syrian Democratic Forces in Qamisli district, Al-Hasakah province, Syria, Aug. 18, 2023. Hedil Amir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The retaliatory strikes are the latest move by the Biden administration to deter Iranian-backed groups and Iran. Over the weekend, the Pentagon announced it would expand its support to the Middle East to improve protection for U.S. forces. The additional forces include the strike group of the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower and other air defense systems.

Thursday’s attacks are the second retaliatory measures launched by the Biden administration against Iran-backed militias this year.

In March, the United States conducted precision airstrikes in eastern Syria after an attack on a base of US and coalition forces killed one US contractor and injured five US soldiers and another US contractor.

There are about 900 U.S. troops in Syria and 2,500 in Iraq, all as part of the mission to defeat ISIS.

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Eleanor Watson

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