U.S. forces based in the Middle East have been attacked at least 13 in the past week, the Pentagon’s top spokesperson revealed Tuesday.
Between Oct. 17-24, American troops were targeted 10 times in Iraq and three times in Syria “via a mix of one-way attack drones and rockets,” press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon.
While there is no evidence that Iran has ordered the attacks, Defense Department officials said Monday that all recent targeting of U.S. troops had “Iranian fingerprints all over it.”
“It’s been well-documented and you’ve heard U.S. officials across the podiums as well as policy leaders for years talk about Iran’s funding, equipping, guidance and direction, to partners and proxies across the region,” a senior defense official told reporters.
“That includes Lebanese Hezbollah, militia groups in Iraq and Syria, as well as the Houthis, in Yemen. So I think it’s fair to say when you see this uptick in activity and attacks by many of these groups, there’s Iranian fingerprints all over it,” they added.
Ryder did not have the exact number of U.S. troops injured during the attacks, but the Pentagon earlier revealed that an American contractor died of a heart attack during a false alarm at al Asad air base in Iraq.
The recent attacks are the first such attempts on U.S. troops in Iraq in more than a year and come amid the backdrop of the Hamas-Israel war. Biden administration officials fear Iran and its proxies may use the conflict — which began after Hamas militants’ launched surprise attacks on Israel on Oct. 7 — to open another front in the war or further destabilize the region including through attacking American forces.
To counter this, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin over the weekend ordered the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group to a location overseen by U.S. Central Command. The strike group has previously been moved to the Eastern Mediterranean along with the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group after the Hamas-Israel war began.
In addition, Austin placed a number of forces on prepare to deploy orders should they need to respond to any aggressions, and deployed the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery and additional Patriot battalions to be spread across the region.
Ryder on Tuesday would not disclose the exact number of each weapon sent or where they would be located, but noted that the THAAD battery is coming from Fort Bliss, Texas and the Patriot battalions and batteries from Fort Liberty, N.C., and Fort Sill, Okla.
He added that the U.S. is posturing additional forces “to send a clear message that we will protect our forces. We will always maintain the inherent right of self-defense. And if there is a response, should we choose to have one, we would do that at a time and place of our choosing.”
The Pentagon this week has amped up its rhetoric against Iran, with Ryder on Monday saying that it will hold the country ultimately responsible for the attacks in Iraq and Syria.
“By virtue of the fact that they are supported by Iran, we will ultimately hold Iran responsible,” he said.
The recent drone and rocket assaults on American troops include an Oct. 18 attempt on al Asad base west of Baghdad, where two drones were shot at. One was destroyed and one was damaged, with minor injuries to coalition forces and slight damage to the base.
Hours later, another drone attack targeted the al-Harir air base in Erbil in northern Iraq but was thwarted.
The same day, an attack targeted al Tanf Garrison in Syria, with four U.S. service members injured.
And on Oct. 19 while in the northern Red Sea, the USS Carney shot down four land attack cruise missiles and 15 drones launched by Houthi forces in Yemen.