Attack Kills 6 Kurdish Fighters Allied with U.S.
A deadly drone attack targeting a military base in northeastern Syria that houses U.S. troops has killed at least six Kurdish fighters and wounded several more, further escalating tensions in the region.
The attack on Monday utilized explosive-laden drones that struck a training area and blast walls around the perimeter of the Harir base near the border with Iraq, according to officials with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The base has served as a training ground for the SDF under the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group.
While no American troops were hurt, the assault signals an alarming readiness by Iran-backed militias to attack facilities housing U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq. It follows on the heels of an attack earlier this month targeting the Green Village base in eastern Syria, which injured several U.S. servicemembers.
U.S. Vows Response to Continuing Attacks
U.S. Central Command strongly condemned the “deliberate and coordinated” attack on the Harir base, vowing to respond forcefully against “threats and aggression” against troops continuing the fight to ensure ISIS’s lasting defeat. However, with tensions already escalating between the U.S. and Iran on multiple fronts, experts warn the risk of conflict is rising.
The U.S. Treasury Department last week sanctioned six executives of an Iranian drone manufacturing company, accusing them of supplying Russia with attack-capable drones for use in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to attack Iranian interests inside Syria, carrying out airstrikes over the weekend targeting weapons convoys and facilities operated by Iran-backed militias including Hezbollah.
- Iraqi resistance targets Hari base after aggression on Iran
- Israel strikes Iran sites in Syria after attempted drone attack
Escalating Proxy Warfare Across the Mideast
Analysts see the latest attacks as part of an escalating shadow war between Iran and its proxies on one side, and the U.S., Israel and Gulf Arab states on the other. The indirect conflict playing out in Syria, Iraq and Yemen also risks triggering a wider regional conflagration.
In Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition targeted camps and weapons depots of the Houthi rebels over the weekend in response to deadly drone and missile attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia last month.
The tit-for-tat strikes and attacks among these factions have intensified since the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. That’s raised alarm in Washington, Brussels and allied Arab capitals about Tehran’s advancing nuclear program and its provision of drones and missiles to proxy groups.
- U.S. vows to defend Gulf allies after Houthis attack UAE
- Houthi rebels attack Saudi airport with bomb-laden drone
Militia Groups Targeting U.S. Facilities Across Iraq, Syria
No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack on the SDF’s Harir base, but U.S. officials blame Iranian-backed militias that have been systematically targeting coalition bases in Iraq and Syria over the past year.
These include Kataib Hezbollah and other factions of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which are officially part of Iraq’s security forces but operate semi-autonomously with support from Iran’s Quds Force.
Facilities frequently targeted include:
- Harir base, Syria
- Green Village, Syria
- Ain al-Assad air base, Iraq
- Erbil airport, Iraqi Kurdistan
- Baghdad airport
The attacks have employed various methods – from 107mm rockets to explosive-laden drones – showing the increasing sophistication of Iran’s proxies in the region.
Outlook: Further Strikes Likely absent US-Iran Progress
In the absence of progress toward restoring the Iran nuclear deal, experts expect Shiite militia groups in Iraq and Syria to continue targeting facilities associated with the U.S. and its regional allies.
The Biden administration maintains that reviving the 2015 pact remains the best chance to constrain Iran’s nuclear program and avoid a major conflict. However, with Tehran rapidly expanding its uranium enrichment, critics argue the U.S. must consider alternatives, including military strikes.
Others call for directly confronting Iranian proxies or their financing networks, for instance by formally designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. They also argue Washington should provide additional air defenses and other weaponry so allies can better defend against drone and missile attacks.
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