syria strike damascus
Police officers stand on the rubble of a damaged building at the site of a rocket attack, in central Damascus' Kafr Sousa neighbourhood. Illustrative image. Image Credit: Reuters file

BEIRUT: At least eight pro-Iran fighters were killed in US strikes on eastern Syria, a war monitor said Monday, after Washington announced the raids a day earlier in response to attacks on American forces.

The toll is “eight pro-Iran fighters dead, including at least one Syrian, and Iraqi nationals”, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, following the strikes late Sunday on the Mayadeen and Albu Kamal areas of Syria’s eastern Deir Al Zor province.

The Pentagon on Sunday announced a new round of airstrikes on Iranian facilities in Syria that officials said were linked to dozens of recent attacks targeting US troops there and in neighbouring Iraq.

The operation marked a significant escalation by the Biden administration, which has sought to deter the sharp rise in violence against American forces in the Middle East without provoking a broader regional conflict as tensions flare over the war in Gaza.

In a statement, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that these latest strikes had been carried out in eastern Syria on facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and groups affiliated with it. They hit a training facility near the city of Abu Kamal and a “safe house” near Mayadin, he said.

President Biden directed the operation, Austin added, “to make clear that the United States will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests.”

A senior US defence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss preliminary assessments following the strikes, said the training facility in Abu Kamal also was used to store weapons and that secondary explosions were observed.

The safe house had functioned as a headquarters for groups affiliated with the IRGC, the senior defense official said. Militia personnel were present when the strikes occurred there, and the Pentagon believes some were killed, the official added. The fatalities were first reported by Fox News.

American fighter jets conducted the strikes late on Sunday, the official said. In a break with similar operations in recent weeks, the Pentagon has not identified the precise type of aircraft that carried out the mission.

“We continue to message to Iran that we hold them accountable for these [attacks on US personnel], and that their leaders must take action to constrain the activities of the groups Iran directs, trains, and equips,” the official said. “We will not hesitate to take further measures to protect our people, if necessary.”

The operation followed similar actions targeting facilities in Syria that US officials said were linked to Iran, first on October 26 and again on November 8. As of late last week, at least 46 attacks against US troops had been documented since the middle of October, with dozens of American personnel sustaining what US officials have characterized as minor injuries.