By: Micaela Burrow, Daily Caller News Foundation
An Iran-backed militia behind the latest attacks on U.S. troops in the Middle East took credit for two more strikes Wednesday and Thursday after President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he warned Iran the U.S. would respond.
Iran-backed militias began striking at U.S. troops posted in Iraq and Syria on Oct. 17, compelling the Pentagon to rush additional air defenses to the Middle East and warn of intensifying threats to American military personnel in the near term. Multiple U.S. officials, including now President Joe Biden, have publicly threatened Iran’s leaders the U.S. would retaliate if Iran continued allowing its proxy groups to target troops stationed in the Middle East, but so far all known measures have been defensive.
“My warning to the Ayatollah was that if they continue to move against those troops, we will respond, and he should be prepared,” Biden said in remarks Wednesday.
His description of the conversation revealed Biden issued starker warnings to Tehran than was previously known. Biden appeared to be referring to his conversation with Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Oct. 11. He said he warned Iran to “be careful” in supporting further attacks but did not say publicly whether he relayed to the Ayatollah plans for a response.
At least 16 assaults with rockets and one-way attack “kamikaze” drones targeted U.S. troops between Oct. 17 and Thursday, including an unsuccessful attack on U.S. forces near Erbil, Iraq on Thursday afternoon, the Pentagon said, according to CNN.
Another attack was recorded at a location in northern Syria on Wednesday, The Washington Post reported, citing U.S. officials. Three rockets were aimed at the outpost and one landed inside, although no troops were injured.
Hezbollah-linked Al Mayadeen first reported rocket strikes on U.S. troops at Abu Hajar Airport in Syria on Wednesday. Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a moniker for a coalition of resistance groups Iran funds and controls to some extent, claimed responsibility for the strikes.
The statement, posted on the Islamic Resistance in Iraq’s military social media account, was dated 2:29 p.m. EST. Earlier, at 2:09 p.m., the account had said a statement was forthcoming.
Later that evening, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed another attack on the Ain Al-Asad coalition military base in Iraq. The group said a drone hit its target. The claim could not be immediately verified.
And, Thursday morning, the group claimed it launched a missile salvo at the Al-Shadadi base in Syria, a coalition outpost also hosting U.S. troops.
Nearly two dozen troops sustained minor injuries during the initial wave of attacks on Oct. 17 and Oct. 18, the Pentagon said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
Biden faces mounting pressure to order a counterattack, the Post reported. In March, the administration bombed buildings in Syria said to be used by Iran-backed militias affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in retaliation for strikes killing an American contractor and wounding U.S. troops, according to the Post.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned at the time that “no group will strike our troops with impunity.” However, this time Biden is cognizant that any action taken by the U.S. risks inciting a region primed for broader conflict, the Post reported, citing the officials. Military and defense leaders in the Pentagon believe Iran intends to continue militia strikes on U.S. troops in the Middle East that will provoke the U.S. into outright war and unleash simmering hostilities fueled by the so-far limited war between Israel and Gaza, allowing conflict to cascade across the Middle East.
“The United States does not — emphasize does not — seek conflict with Iran,” Biden said Wednesday. His words echoed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s comments the day before made before a convention of the United Nations Security Council.
“The U.S. does not seek conflict with Iran. We do not want this war to widen. But, if Iran or its proxies attack U.S. personnel anywhere, make no mistake: We will defend our people, we will defend our security, swiftly and decisively,” Blinken said.
The Pentagon is sending nearly a dozen air defense systems to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) region, Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to protect American service members from credible threats of attacks by Iran-backed militias.
In addition, on Saturday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin directed the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, which was heading to the eastern Mediterranean to boost deterrence vis-à-vis actors seeking to attack Israel, to the CENTCOM area of responsibility. Austin also activated multiple Patriot batteries and one Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery in “locations throughout the region to increase force protection for U.S. forces,” according to a Pentagon press release.
Iran-backed Islamist groups in Iraq had threatened to target American forces if the U.S. intervened to help Israel in its war against Hamas. While it has dispatched military advisers to Israel and fast-tracked weapons deliveries for the IDF, the U.S. does not have an active combat presence in Israel, administration officials have said.
The U.S. maintains a sustained presence of about 2,500 troops in Iraq and an additional 900 in Syria tasked with training and equipping local militaries to fight remnants of the Islamic State, according to Reuters.
The Pentagon, CENTCOM and the White House did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s requests for comment.