Attack on Syrian US base kills Kurdish fighters as regional tension simmers

The strikes extend a series of tit-for-tat attacks as Israel’s war in Gaza threatens escalation across the region.

A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces
A US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighter in Deir ez Zor, Syria in September 2023 [File: Baderkhan Ahmad/AP]

A drone strike on a United States base in eastern Syria overnight has killed several fighters from Kurdish-led forces.

The United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Monday that seven fighters were killed and at least 18 others injured.

The attack follows US strikes on targets in Iraq and Syria over the weekend. Iran-aligned armed groups said they had also struck US bases in Syria as well as western and northern Iraq, as a low-level war with Washington simmers.

“This attack in the first response by the Iranian militias to American bases after American airstrikes on militia positions in various areas within areas they control,” the observatory said of Monday’s incident.

The SOHR added that since October 19, “108 attacks” were carried out on bases of the US-led Combined Joint Task Force across Syria. The US-led coalition was set up in 2014 to fight ISIL (ISIS).

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced a different death toll, saying: “Six of our fighters were martyred due to a terrorist attack” with a one-way drone, targeting a “training academy in the Al Omar oilfield”.

RAF Weapon Technicians prepare RAF Typhoon FRG4 aircraft
A British Royal Air Force weapon technician prepares RAF Typhoon FRG4 aircraft for strikes against Houthi targets [UK MOD/Handout via Reuters]

The extending series of strikes illustrates the rising threat that Israel’s bombardment of Gaza risks provoking a regional escalation across the Middle East.

That danger rose dramatically late last month when a drone hit a US base in Jordan, killing three soldiers and wounding more than 40. Washington blamed the attack on Iran-backed forces and promised retaliation, which came over the weekend.

The US military hit Tehran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria on Friday and Saturday. US and UK forces unleashed attacks against 36 Houthi targets in Yemen on Sunday.

The US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) said its forces “conducted a strike in self-defense against a Houthi … land attack cruise missile” and later hit “four anti-ship cruise missiles, all of which were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea”.

Washington has sought to confirm that it hopes not to escalate the regional risk. The Pentagon has insisted that it does not want a war with Iran.

However, officials say that further military action is planned.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told national TV on Sunday that Friday’s strikes were “the beginning, not the end, of our response, and there will be more steps – some seen, some perhaps unseen”.

“I would not describe it as some open-ended military campaign,” he added. But when asked whether Washington would rule out the possibility of striking Iran directly, Sullivan said, “It would not be wise for me to talk about what we’re ruling in and ruling out.”

In response, Iran said on Monday that it “will not hesitate” to respond if the US directly attacks its territory.

Iran “has shown that it has always reacted decisively to any threat to its security, territorial integrity and sovereignty,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said.

He added that Tehran “will not hesitate to use its capabilities” to respond to any attacks but reiterated that it “does not seek to aggravate tensions and crises in the region”.

So far, Iran has avoided any direct role in the Gaza conflict and its overspill, despite its affiliation with groups that are at odds with the US.

The Iran-backed Houthis, who have been attacking ships in the Red Sea for several months, in solidarity, they assert, with Palestinians in Gaza, said on Sunday that the US and UK strikes would not defeat them.

“These attacks will not deter us from our … stance in support of the steadfast Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” said Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree on social media. The strikes “will not pass without response and punishment”, he added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies