Biden says US willing to respond ‘forcefully’ after deadly Iran drone strike
President Joe Biden responded to the Iranian drone strike in northeast Syria – which claimed the life of one American contractor and wounded five US service members – by warning Iran that the US is willing to “act forcefully to protect our people”.
“Make no mistake, the United States does not ... seek conflict with Iran, but be prepared for us to act forcefully to protect our people. That’s exactly what happened last night,” Mr Biden said in Ottawa, Canada, during a joint appearance with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Mr Biden authorised retaliatory “precision airstrikes’ against Iran-aligned groups after the deadly Iranian drone strike.
The drone struck a facility on a coalition base housing US personnel in northeast Syria on Thursday, the Pentagon announced in a statement late on Thursday night.
One contractor – an American citizen – died in the strike while five US service members and an additional US contractor were also wounded.
“My heart and deepest condolences go out to the family of the American we lost, and wish a speedy recovery for those who are wounded,” Mr Biden said. “But I’m also grateful for the professionalism of our service members who so ably carried out this response.”
The Pentagon said that the intelligence community had determined the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) “to be of Iranian origin”.
In response to the strike, Mr Biden gave the green light for the Pentagon to launch a series of airstrikes on facilities in eastern Syria used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
These strikes killed six Iranian-backed fighters at an arms depot in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour and two other fighters near the town of Mayadeen, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Another strike on a military post near the border with Iraq had no reported fatalities, the information group said.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement that the US had taken “proportionate and deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimise casualties”.
“At the direction of President Biden, I authorised US Central Command forces to conduct precision airstrikes tonight in eastern Syria against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC),” he said.
“The airstrikes were conducted in response to today’s attack as well as a series of recent attacks against Coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC.
“Our thoughts are with the family and colleagues of the contractor who was killed and with those who were wounded in the attack earlier today.”
The DOD chief added: “As President Biden has made clear, we will take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing.
“No group will strike our troops with impunity.”
Commander of US Central Command General Erik Kurilla warned that the US is ready to respond with additional strikes if there are more attacks on American troops.
“We are postured for scalable options in the face of any additional Iranian attacks,” he said.
Three of the wounded service members and the wounded contractor were taken to medical facilities in Iraq, while the two other service members received treatment on-site.
The identities of the dead and wounded Americans have not been released.
Overnight, videos on social media purported to show explosions in Syria’s Deir Ez-Zor, a strategic province that borders Iraq and contains oil fields.
Iran-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.
Syria’s state-run SANA news agency did not immediately acknowledge any strikes. Syria’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Qatar’s state-run news agency reported a call between its foreign minister and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
Doha has been an interlocutor between Iran and the US recently amid tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program.
There was no immediate reaction from Iran over the strikes, which come during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
The strikes came just hours after Commander Kurilla testified before the House Armed Services Committee about Iran using proxies to “hide” its attacks.
“What Iran does to hide its hand is they use Iranian proxies,” he told the House committee on Thursday.
“That’s either UAVs or rockets to be able to attack our forces in either Iraq or Syria.”
In total, such Iranian proxies have carried out 78 drone or rocket attacks on US forces in the Middle East since the start of 2021, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report