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Biden: Will Protect Personnel in Syria 03/25 09:37

   President Joe Biden said Friday that the U.S. would respond "forcefully" to 
protect its personnel after U.S. forces retaliated with airstrikes on sites in 
Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guard following a 
suspected Iranian-linked attack Thursday that killed a U.S. contractor and 
wounded seven other Americans in northeast Syria.

   OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) -- President Joe Biden said Friday that the U.S. would 
respond "forcefully" to protect its personnel after U.S. forces retaliated with 
airstrikes on sites in Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran's 
Revolutionary Guard following a suspected Iranian-linked attack Thursday that 
killed a U.S. contractor and wounded seven other Americans in northeast Syria.

   "The United States does not, does not seek conflict with Iran," Biden said 
in Ottawa, Canada, where he is on a state visit. But he said Iran and its 
proxies should be prepared for the U.S. "to act forcefully to protect our 
people. That's exactly what happened last night." Activists said the U.S. 
bombing killed at least four people.

   While it's not the first time the U.S. and Iran have traded strikes in 
Syria, the attacks and the U.S. response threaten to upend recent efforts to 
deescalate tensions across the wider Middle East, whose rival powers have made 
steps toward dtente in recent days after years of turmoil.

   The Pentagon said a drone attack on a U.S. base Thursday killed a contractor 
and injured five U.S. troops and another contractor. That was followed by two 
simultaneous attacks on U.S. forces in Syria Friday, according to U.S. 

   The officials said that based on preliminary information, there was a rocket 
attack Friday at a Conoco plant, and one U.S. service member was injured but is 
in stable condition. At about the same time, several drones were launched at 
Green Village, where U.S. troops are also based. One official said all but one 
of the drones were shot down, and there were no U.S. injuries there. The 
officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.

   Two Syrian opposition activist groups reported a new wave of airstrikes on 
eastern Syria that hit positions of Iran-backed militias after rockets were 
fired at a Conoco gas plant that has a base housing American troops. Several 
U.S. officials, however, said the U.S. did not launch any attacks late Friday, 
and it wasn't clear if the activists were referring to the attack on U.S. 
forces at Green Village.

   U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the American intelligence community 
had determined the drone in Thursday's attack on was of Iranian origin. U.S. 
officials said that conclusion was based on recovered debris and intelligence 
threat streams. They offered no immediate evidence to support the claim. The 
drone hit a maintenance facility at a coalition base in the northeast Syrian 
city of Hasaka.

   In retaliation, the Pentagon said F-15 fighter jets flying out of al-Udeid 
Air Base in Qatar struck several locations around Deir el-Zour. Those strikes, 
said Austin, were a response to the drone attack "as well as a series of recent 
attacks against coalition forces in Syria" by groups affiliated with the 
Revolutionary Guard.

   Biden, speaking during a press conference with Canadian Prime Minister 
Justin Trudeau, expressed his "deepest condolences" to the family of the 
American killed and well-wishes for the injured.

   Iran relies on a network of proxy forces through the Mideast to counter the 
U.S. and Israel, its arch regional enemy. The U.S. has had forces in northeast 
Syria since 2015, when they deployed as part of the fight against the Islamic 
State group, and maintains some 900 troops there, working with Kurdish-led 
forces that control around a third of Syria.

   Overnight, videos on social media purported to show explosions in Deir 
el-Zour, a strategic province that borders Iraq and contains oil fields. 
Iranian-backed militia groups and Syrian forces control the area, which also 
has seen suspected airstrikes by Israel in recent months allegedly targeting 
Iranian supply routes.

   Reports on the number of killed and wounded in the U.S. strikes varied. 
Activist group Deir Ezzor 24, which covers news in the province, said four 
people were killed and a number of others were wounded. The Syrian Observatory 
for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said 11 Iranian-backed fighters 
were killed -- including six at an arms depot in the Harabesh neighborhood in 
the city of Deir el-Zour and five at military posts near the towns of Mayadeen 
and Boukamal.

   Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Observatory, said three rockets were fired 
earlier Friday at the al-Omar oil field in Deir el-Zour that houses U.S. 
troops, an apparent retaliation to the American strikes.

   The Associated Press could not immediately independently confirm the 
activist reports. Iran and Syria did not immediately acknowledge the strikes, 
and their officials at the United Nations in New York did not respond to 
requests for comment from the AP.

   Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme 
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been suspected of carrying out attacks with 
bomb-carrying drones across the wider Middle East.

   The exchange of strikes came as Saudi Arabia and Iran have been working 
toward reopening embassies in each other's countries. The kingdom also 
acknowledged efforts to reopen a Saudi embassy in Syria, whose embattled 
President Bashar Assad has been backed by Iran in his country's long war.

   U.S. Army Gen. Erik Kurilla, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, 
warned that its forces could carry out additional strikes if needed. "We are 
postured for scalable options in the face of any additional Iranian attacks," 
Kurilla said in a statement.

   On Thursday, Kurilla warned Congress during a hearing that the "Iran of 
today is exponentially more militarily capable than it was even five years 
ago." He pointed to Iran's arsenal of ballistic missiles and bomb-carrying 

   "What Iran does to hide its hand is they use Iranian proxies," Kurilla said.

   According to officials, Iran has launched 80 attacks against U.S. forces and 
locations in Iraq and Syria since January 2021. The vast majority of those have 
been in Syria.

   Diplomacy to deescalate the exchange appeared to begin immediately. The 
foreign minister of Qatar spoke by phone with U.S. National Security Adviser 
Jake Sullivan as well as Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the 
Qatari state news agency reported. Doha has been an interlocutor between Iran 
and the U.S. recently amid tensions over Tehran's nuclear program.

   The U.S. under Biden has struck Syria previously over tensions with Iran -- 
in February and June of 2021, as well as August 2022.

   Dareen Khalifa, a senior Syria analyst with the Brussels-based International 
Crisis Group, said that while Thursday's exchange of strikes comes at a 
sensitive political moment due to the "overall deterioration of U.S.-Iran 
relations and the stalling of the nuclear talks," she does not expect a 
significant escalation.

   "These tit-for-tat strikes have been ongoing for a long time," Khalifa said, 
although she noted that they usually do not result in casualties.

   Since the U.S. drone strike that killed Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem 
Soleimani in 2020, Iran has sought "to make life difficult for U.S. forces 
stationed east of the Euphrates," said Hamidreza Azizi, an expert with the 
German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

   "Iran increased its support for local proxies in Deir el-Zour while trying 
to ally with the tribal forces in the area," Azizi wrote in a recent analysis.

   The strikes come during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

   Syria's war began with the 2011 Arab Spring protests that roiled the wider 
Middle East and toppled governments in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen. It 
later morphed into a regional proxy conflict that has seen Russia and Iran back 
Assad. The United Nations estimates over 300,000 civilians have been killed in 
the war. Those figures do not include soldiers and insurgents killed in the 
conflict; their numbers are believed to be in the tens of thousands.

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