As the confrontation between Israel and Hamas terrorists escalates in an already unstable region, Defence Department officials express alarm about the possibility for fresh attacks on American troops stationed in the Middle East from Iran and its proxy groups.
In particular, two DOD officials expressed concern that Iranian proxy groups in Iraq and Syria, or Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf, could use the regional instability to launch attacks against American or partner forces operating in those two countries.
As one of the officials interviewed for this piece put it, “that presents an opportunity,” all of whom were provided anonymity in order to discuss sensitive operational topics, as was the case here.
American forces fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq are “aware of malign actors who may seek to capitalise on conflicts and instability in the region,” according to Maj. Geoffrey Carmichael, the operation’s spokesman.
Carmichael vowed that “nefarious actors” would not be able to divert attention away from the organization’s primary goal. While he did not directly identify Iran, he did say, “Make no mistake, we reserve our inherent right to self-defense whenever faced with threats that place our forces in harm’s way.”
Since the Trump administration took office, the United States has stationed about 900 troops in Syria, with a primary focus on training and equipping the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight ISIS. Although American combat soldiers left Iraq in 2021, over 2,500 American advisers remain in the nation to this day. Iranian proxies have attacked U.S. forces in both nations on multiple occasions, most recently in March.
Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin warned at a press conference in Brussels on Wednesday that external parties should not try to escalate the situation.
Anyone who thinks they can profit from Israel’s suffering by expanding the scope of the conflict or stealing more blood should think again. Austin emphasised, “We have only one word: Don’t.”
Given that Israel is considering a ground invasion of Gaza in addition to its airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave, the situation has the potential to escalate rapidly. The Biden administration has harshly condemned the attacks and promised to provide further help to Israel, while the White House has indicated it has no intention of sending American boots on the ground.
Vice President Joe Biden remarked on Tuesday that “the brutality of Hamas, this bloodthirstiness,” reminded him of “the worst,” “the worst rampages” of ISIS. As in, “This is terrorism.”
Due to operational security concerns, Pentagon officials remained mum on whether or not any further precautions had been taken to safeguard American personnel in Iraq and Syria.
Nonetheless, in response to the attack on Israel, Austin has ordered the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean and the deployment of more Middle Eastern fighter planes, and is considering the deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the region. Any attacks against American troops by Iran or its proxies might be met with these forces.
In recent months, Iranian proxies have halted attacking American forces in the region. The Turkish airstrikes against the Syrian Democratic Forces have only served to heighten the vigilance of those forces. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish militia to be terrorists despite their alliance with U.S. soldiers in the fight against ISIS.
After the Turkish drone reached within half a kilometre of U.S. forces in northeast Syria on Friday, a U.S. F-16 fighter jet shot it down. In reaction to a terrorist attack in Ankara by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Turkey has initiated an air campaign against the Kurds in Syria and Iraq in recent weeks.
A third DOD official noted that while Turkey had not promised to avoid striking U.S. forces in Syria, no additional strikes have gotten near to them. “a better understanding of the need to deconflict and not come into contact,” the person said, was the result of senior-level involvement.
Some of the SDF leaders close us are the ones they’re accusing of being PKK, the official claimed. They will make every effort to spare American lives. But they’re not afraid to get hurt.
The person stated that the drone shootdown would likely provoke conversations about whether or not to increase or decrease the number of American soldiers in Syria.
Gen. Mazloum Abdi, commander of the SDF, stated in a WhatsApp interview with HEADLINESFOREVER that the Turkish bombings had caused “chaos” in northeast Syria, giving ISIS a chance to conduct new terrorist assaults. He also noted that the coordinated patrols undertaken by the United States and the Syrian Democratic Forces were directly threatened by ISIS.
In his words, “these attacks hinder counter-terrorism efforts and regional security threats, demanding international condemnation and an immediate action to counter them,” as said by Mazloum.