By: Micaela Burrow, Daily Caller News Foundation
Recent drone attacks on American troops stationed in the Middle East caused at least two dozen injuries, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) confirmed to NBC News.
During attacks drone attacks at Al Assad Airbase, Iraq and Al-Tanf Garrison, Syria, between Oct. 17 and Oct. 18 EST, 21 U.S. troops sustained minor injuries and have since returned to duty, the Pentagon confirmed in an emailed statement Wednesday. The Pentagon cautioned that servicemembers may report injuries, such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) over the course of several days and that number could change.
Militia groups with deep ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran’s paramilitary organization that answers to the Ayatollah, amped up attempts to harm U.S. service members in recent days. Since Oct. 18, Iranian proxy militias launched one-way attack drones and rockets at sites hosting American troops in Iraq and Syria a total of 13 times, the Pentagon said Tuesday afternoon.
Pentagon leaders fear the groups intend to spark wider conflict in the Middle East and have identified a significant risk to U.S. troops in the region for the near future.
In the first attack on Oct. 18, U.S. troops stationed at al-Tanf base in southern Syria intercepted two of three drones coming their way, CENTCOM said in a press release at the time. Troops sustained “minor injuries” after destroying one drone and damaging the other, but the command had not disclosed the number of casualties.
Operations to shoot the drones down caused minor injuries to 20 U.S. military personnel at al-Tanf, CENTCOM told NBC News on Tuesday. All wounded troops have since returned to duty and the base did not incur any damage, CENTCOM said.
Four additional U.S. service members suffered minor injuries at two separate, additional attacks occurring the same day at al-Asad base in western Iraq, NBC News reported, citing CENTCOM. All of the drones were shot down, but falling debris destroyed a hangar containing a small aircraft.
“In this moment of heightened alert, we are vigilantly monitoring the situation in Iraq and the region. We want to emphasize U.S. forces will defend U.S. and Coalition forces against any threat,” CENTCOM said at the time.
As attacks on installations throughout the region where American troops are present mount, the Pentagon has taken additional steps to bolster defenses in the CENTCOM region to protect U.S. troops.
“Should there be a response, if there is to be one, the Department will do so at the time and place of our choosing,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at a briefing Monday.
A squadron of fighter aircraft arrived in the area on Tuesday, and a group of warships is on its way. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered troops to stand at the ready to deploy to the region if needed and activated additional Patriots and a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery to augment air defenses in the area.
CENTCOM did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated.