US bolsters forces in Middle East following series of attacks on US troops in Syria
By Oren Liebermann, CNN
The US has bolstered its military forces in the Middle East following a series of attacks on US troops in Syria attributed to Iranian-affiliated militias, the Pentagon said Friday.
A squadron of A-10 attack aircraft are deploying to the region ahead of a scheduled deployment. The deployment of the attack aircraft was expedited by several weeks following the attacks in Syria, according to Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Phil Ventura.
In addition, the US ordered a carrier strike group to remain in the region to support US forces in Central Command, which covers the Middle East, and a squadron of A-10 attack aircraft to the region, Ventura said.
“We are committed to supporting the defeat-ISIS mission alongside a global coalition in Syria and prepared to respond to a range of contingencies in the Middle East if needed,” Ventura said in a statement.
The George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group will remain in the Mediterranean Sea under US European Command, but it will support US forces in the Middle East in the event of contingency plans and operations, Ventura said. Led by the nuclear aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, the strike group also includes the guided missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf, the destroyer USS Delbert D. Black, and the support ship USNS Arctic.
“Collectively, these actions demonstrate the United States’ ability to rapidly reposition forces across the globe and underscores that all necessary measures will be taken to defend U.S. forces,” Ventura said.
Last week, a series of attacks on US bases in Syria killed one US contractor and wounded US personnel in the war-torn country.
The US has approximately 900 troops in Syria as part of the ongoing mission to defeat ISIS. But those forces, spread across several bases in northeast Syria, have become a frequent target for Iran and its proxies in the region, who can launch drone or rocket attacks against US positions.
“Iran threatens to push the Middle East into regional instability by supporting terrorist and proxy forces,” said Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley in his opening remarks at the House Armed Services committee hearing on Wednesday.
But the attacks on US troops in Syria have not shifted the Pentagon’s resolve to continue the mission against ISIS, even with the threat posed by Iranian proxies.
“We will continue to counter terrorist threats in the region or anywhere else we find them,” Milley said.
The first attack last week occurred when a drone struck a facility with US personnel near Hasakah in northeast Syria. The US attributed the attack to militias affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The attack, which killed a US contractor, also wounded five US service members and another US contractor, the military said at the time. On Thursday, the Pentagon revealed four other service members were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the days after the attack. One of those service members diagnosed with a TBI was transferred to Baghdad, Iraq for further evaluation and treatment.
In response, the US carried out airstrikes targeting IRGC facilities near Deir ez-Zor, Syria. On Thursday, the Pentagon said it assessed eight militants were killed in the strike.
But following the US retaliatory strikes, militant groups in Syria launched a series of additional attacks on US troops based at Conoco and Green Village in northeast Syria. Three US service members were injured in the attacks on Green Village, including two with traumatic brain injuries.
The number of service members diagnosed with TBI may increase, the Pentagon acknowledged, since the screening is not complete, and the symptoms often take time to develop.
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CNN’s Haley Britzky contributed reporting.