US troops in Iraq and Syria came under a spate of new rocket and drone attacks over the weekend, as the Pentagon sent an Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine into the region to join two aircraft carrier strike groups in a bid to deter Iran and its proxies from exploiting Israel’s war in Gaza.

US troops at the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq’s Anbar province and at three separate bases in Syria have shot down at least six separate one-way attack drones directed at their positions since Friday, a defense official revealed to Al-Monitor on Monday.

On Sunday alone, US troops shot down drones in three attacks targeting the Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq and one each targeting separate US bases at al-Tanf and Tal Baydar in Syria.

US forces at al-Asad airbase shot down two attempted one-way drone attacks Sunday morning and afternoon before responding a third barrage of multiple drones and rockets Sunday night, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Pentagon officials did not say which groups were behind the latest attacks but have blamed Iran-backed militias for previous such incidents, many of which have been claimed by a media front associated with such militias. White House and Pentagon officials have said they will hold Iran accountable for attacks by its proxies and reserve the right to respond in self-defense.

No US troops were reported injured and no damage incurred in the latest attacks, Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on Monday.

Nor have any US troops been injured in the attacks since President Joe Biden authorized airstrikes targeting two facilities used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and associated groups in eastern Syria on Oct. 26, one US military official told Al-Monitor.

But the number of American personnel reporting traumatic brain injuries resulting from prior attacks, including two that hit the Ain al-Asad air base and the Al-Tanf garrison on Oct. 17-18, have doubled, the Pentagon revealed on Monday.

A total of 46 American personnel have reported injuries from those attacks, Ryder said, marking a significant uptick in reports of concussive injury symptoms which were first reported by Al-Monitor. In all, US troops in Iraq and Syria have come under attack 38 separate times since Oct. 17, he said.

Coalition troops successfully thwarted most of those attacks thanks to “robust defenses,” the US defense official told Al-Monitor.

Why it matters: Iran-backed groups are threatening to increase their attacks on American troops in the region as Israel’s war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip grinds on into its second month.

The continued attacks suggest the militias are signaling they do not intend to stand down.

Asaib Ahl al-Haqq on Sunday released a statement threatening to target the US Embassy and bases in Iraq. The so-called Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a suspected media front for IRGC-backed militias in Iraq, claimed on social media on Monday to have unveiled a new missile resembling previously known Iranian models.

Iran’s Defense Minister Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani on Sunday publicly warned that Americans “will be hit hard” if Washington does not “immediately halt the war in Gaza and implement a cease-fire,” Iran International reported.

President Biden and other US officials have repeatedly warned Iran and Iran-backed groups not to launch opportunistic attacks on US troops or their allies.

“We will continue to adjust our force posture in the region to make sure we can protect our troops and our facilities on the ground and continue to send a strong deterrent message,” White House National Security Council coordinator John Kirby told reporters on Monday.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a stop in Baghdad to meet with Prime Minister Shia al-Sudani, as Washington seeks Iraqi security forces’ support in cracking down on the attacks. Blinken’s stop in Iraq, which came amid a wider diplomatic tour of the region, was not announced prior to his arrival, underscoring Washington’s concerns about security.

What’s next: The White House on Monday confirmed the Biden administration still does not support the prospect of a cease-fire despite increasing international calls and repeated pleas by top UN officials.

US President Joe Biden discussed with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday the potential for implementing “tactical pauses” in Israel’s campaign to allow civilians to flee and to bring humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, Kirby said.

“We believe we’re at the beginning of these conversations, not the end,” Kirby told reporters Monday. “In the early goings here, Israel was very resistant to humanitarian assistance getting in at all.”

Some 30 truckloads of humanitarian aid have entered the Gaza Strip from Egypt via the Rafah border crossing since Sunday, marking a total of 476 truckloads since Oct. 21 — which Kirby described as “a trickle” and “not enough.”

“I repeatedly made clear to Israel’s leaders that protecting civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Senate lawmakers last week, in reference to conversations held during his Oct. 13 visit to Israel.

Kirby on Monday seemed to suggested that US officials have seen signs of Israeli forces attempting to minimize civilian casualties, but he did not cite any evidence for the assertion.

“We have seen some indications that there are efforts being applied in certain scenarios to try to minimize, but I don’t want to overstate that,” Kirby said.

Health authorities in Gaza have reported more than 10,000 Palestinians killed in Israel’s campaign, which began in response to an Oct. 7 terrorist attack in which Hamas fighters killed 1,400 people across southern Israel.

Israeli forces on Friday bombed the lead ambulance in a convoy of five near the al-Shifa hospital, the largest in the Gaza Strip, killing 15 people and injuring more than 60, the Palestine Red Crescent said.

Israel’s Air Force alleged the ambulance it targeted was being used by “a Hamas terrorist cell,” but had not released any evidence as of publictation time.

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Source » al-monitor