December 8, 2023

The Pentagon‘s primary partner in Syria has warned that attacks against U.S. troops could further destabilize the Middle East as the United States braces for further escalations by Iran-backed groups across the region over the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinian factions led by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Reacting to reports Thursday of a drone strike against U.S. forces in Syria’s eastern province of Deir Ezzor, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) spokesperson Farhad Shami told Newsweek that “it certainly affects the security and stability of the region and hinders the fight against Daesh”—the Arabic language acronym for the ISIS militant group, officially known as the Islamic State.

The attack has yet to be confirmed by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) but has been reported by a number of U.S. news outlets citing unnamed U.S. officials, as well as local media and monitors.

Deir Ezzor was host to the final stronghold of ISIS before the group was largely defeated in separate offensives led by the SDF and a U.S.-led coalition on one side and the Syrian government, backed by Iran and Russia, on the other. As such, various actors, including Iran-backed militias that have targeted U.S. forces in the past, continue to operate in the area, which also contains oil and gas fields.

Syrian, Democratic, Forces, and, US, soldiers, Al-Hasakah
A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), left, and U.S. soldiers are pictured near an armored military vehicle on the outskirts of Rmeilan in Syria’s northeastern Al-Hasakah province, bordering Turkey, on March 27, 2023. SDF is America’s top partner in the fight against ISIS but has also grappled with rival forces backed by Turkey and Iran.

Reports of the latest attack in Syria coincided with a spate of attacks involving rockets and drones targeting U.S. forces in neighboring Iraq, which also hosts a large number of militias supported by Iran. At least one attack was claimed by a group calling itself the Islamic Resistance of Iraq, which said in a statement Thursday that its fighters targeted “the American occupier’s base of Ayn Al-Asad in western Iraq with a burst of rockets.”

A CENTCOM statement published Wednesday said that “the U.S. military defended against three drones near U.S. and Coalition forces” in western and northern Iraq, resulting in minor injuries.

“In this moment of heightened alert, we are vigilantly monitoring the situation in Iraq and the region,” the statement said. “U.S. forces will defend U.S. and Coalition forces against any threat.”

In yet another reported development involving U.S. forces in the region, a number of U.S. media outlets cited unnamed U.S. officials revealing that Navy destroyer USS Carney intercepted three missiles and several drones believed to have been launched by the Iran-aligned Ansar Allah movement, also known as the Houthis.

Newsweek reached out to Ansar Allah, CENTCOM and Hamas for comment via email on Thursday night.

In the wake of its deadliest-ever operation carried out against Israel on October 7, Hamas has called friendly forces across the region to take action against Israel and its allies as Palestinian militias now grapple with an unprecedented bombing campaign by the Israeli military. A number of groups, such as Ansar Allah, have declared their support for the Palestinian cause and have openly weighed joining in the fight in some form.

Last week, a CENTCOM spokesperson told Newsweek that U.S. forces “are monitoring across the region for any indicators or warnings that these groups would consider piling on or entering this conflict in a way that escalates it.”

While declining to discuss “specific force protection measures or future operations,” the spokesperson said that “we remain concerned about Iranian supported militia groups and that we continue to take appropriate measures to ensure the security of U.S. military personnel.”

This is a developing story and further information will be added as it becomes available.

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