U.S. Official: Drone Strikes Hit Positions Near U.S. Base in Syria

Unidentified drones struck positions near a U.S. military garrison located in a remote stretch of southeastern Syria close to the borders with Jordan and Iraq, Newsweek has learned.

Reports of the attack first spread across local outlets tied to the Syrian opposition and were later confirmed to Newsweek by a U.S. official. The official said the attacks involved an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) and "indirect fire" with "no casualties" reported.

A spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) told Newsweek the coalition does not "have anything for release on this at the moment," and referred to U.S. Central Command's public affairs, which did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Reports of the strikes were also carried by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, as well as the opposition-linked Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which said the attack struck near a cafeteria, a mosque and a food warehouse.

"It is not known whether 'the Islamic State' organization or Iranian militias are behind the attack," the monitor said, adding that it had no information on loss of human life.

The observatory also said its sources monitored the mobilization of U.S.-led coalition and partnered rebels of the Maghawir al-Thawra group around the time of the attack, noting "that this targeting is the first of its kind for the military base."

US, Army, Syria, rebels, Tanf, garrison
U.S. Army Green Berets drive through a partnered rebel force checkpoint after a joint patrol mission near Al-Tanf Garrison, Syria, April 29, 2020. Staff Sergeant William Howard/Special Operations Joint Task Force-Levant/U.S. Army

Maghawir al-Thawra is one of the last opposition groups to receive direct U.S. backing. On Tuesday, the group published footage of a joint mortar exercise with coalition forces in Al-Tanf.

Much of the remaining U.S. presence in Syria is focused in the country's northeast, where the Pentagon is partnered with the largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, which seek greater autonomy from the central government in Damascus and not necessarily to overthrow it.

Maghawir al-Thawra and the Syrian Democratic Forces have a common stated goal in defeating ISIS, which the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies also oppose. But other anti-government elements continue strike at both the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian government, whose personnel were targeted in twin bombings earlier Wednesday as a military bus crossed a bridge in central Damascus, killing at least 14 people in one of the first such attacks since the government retook much of the country from its rebel and jihadi foes years ago.

The operation was later claimed by the Saraya al-Qasioun insurgent faction.

Tensions remain across various frontlines in the country, however, and the U.S. has accused Iran and its allied militias deployed to Iraq and Syria of firing rockets and sending armed drones to attack U.S. military positions in both countries. The U.S. has occasionally retaliated against such strikes and has done so twice since President Joe Biden took office, most recently in June.

Other, unclaimed airstrikes largely blamed by local forces on Israel have attacked Iran-associated positions across Syria, including one such attack that hit the heart of the country in Palmyra. Both the Syrian Arab News Agency and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on the killing of a Syrian soldier, while the latter added that three Iran-backed militiamen had also been slain.

A statement later released by the "Operations Room of the Allies of Syria" and aired by a number of outlets such as the Al Manar outlet affiliated with the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah movement said "a decision has been taken to respond to this attack in retaliation for the souls of the martyrs and the blood of the wounded," adding that, "the response will be harsh."

Last week's attack was said to have come from the direction of the Al-Tanf garrison, which is surrounded by a 55-kilometer (about 34-mile) deconfliction zone off-limits to non-coalition forces, and the Jordanian border.

Confirmation of Wednesday's strikes was also carried by Sabreen News, an outlet supportive of the Iran-aligned "Axis of Resistance" that includes militia groups seeking to expel U.S. forces from the region, though no attribution for the operation was given.

The Biden administration has so far denied any plans to withdraw from Syria, or to lift tight sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which the U.S. and a number of its allies accuse of war crimes. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said up to four children were among those killed Wednesday when the Syrian military shelled the rebel-held town of Ariha, Idlib shortly after the deadly bombing in the capital.

But other U.S. partners in the region have steadily come to reengage with the leader ten years into the civil war in Syria.

After taking his first call from Jordanian King Abdullah II earlier this month since the crisis began, Assad spoke via telephone with the United Arab Emirates' de facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Pince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

"During the call, they talked about bilateral relations and ways to enhance them, and areas of bilateral cooperation between Syria and the UAE and joint efforts to expand them for the benefit of the two brotherly countries and peoples," according to Assad's office. "They also discussed the latest developments in the regional and international arenas."