A spate of attacks from Iranian-backed militants last month on U.S. military personnel in Syria caused traumatic brain injuries in 23 military personnel, Defense Department officials tell VOA. One American contractor was killed, and 25 U.S. military personnel were wounded in the attacks.
Thirteen of the 26 casualties were the result of a follow-on attack from Iranian-backed forces in Syria conducted after the U.S. retaliated for a deadly attack in the country’s northeast on March 23, according to defense officials.
The latest injury disclosure calls into question how effective the U.S. retaliatory strikes have been in deterring militants from trying to hurt American service members and contractors in Syria.
“America’s response to these attacks seems to be just to want to ignore them and they will go away. But these militias are not going away,” retired Colonel Myles Caggins III, a senior fellow at the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, told VOA, adding that Iranian-backed attacks have been ongoing against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since 2018.
Asked whether the latest U.S. strikes, which targeted multiple facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, had deterred militants from conducting future attacks, Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder told reporters April 13 that the U.S. military would “continue to do everything that we need to do at a time and place of our choosing to ensure that we are deterring and safeguarding our troops.”
On March 23 at a base near Hasaka known as RLZ, a suicide drone “of Iranian origin” killed a U.S. military contractor, wounded one other contractor, and caused 11 traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in service members, according to Defense Department officials.
The U.S. retaliated later that day with what it called “proportional and deliberate” precision strikes against multiple facilities used by IRGC-backed groups, killing at least eight militants.
“No group will strike our troops with impunity,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at the time of the attacks.
But militant attacks on Syrian garrisons hosting U.S. forces continued on March 24 and March 25 in a coordinated manner that showed a “higher level of sophistication” than previous attacks from Iranian-backed militants, according to a U.S. official.
First, 10 rockets targeted Mission Support Site Green Village in northeast Syria the morning of March 24. That night, several rockets targeted Mission Support Site Conoco in northeast Syria, wounding one American service member and causing 12 TBIs. Less than an hour later, three one-way attack drones targeted Green Village, and another attack drone struck Green Village in the early hours of March 25.
On March 30, the U.S. initially reported that the attacks at Green Village resulted in two traumatic brain injuries. But according to several military officials speaking to VOA, the attacks actually resulted in no injuries, and those TBIs had been misreported.
Defense officials also say a military statement issued last month saying that five service members were wounded in the attack at RLZ also was inaccurate.
The Pentagon says the traumatic brain injuries were identified during post-attack screenings that are still ongoing.
The U.S. has about 900 troops in eastern Syria to help Syrian Kurdish forces prevent a resurgence of the Islamic State terror group.
To date, U.S. officials say Iran or its proxies have carried out more than 80 attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East since President Joe Biden took office in 2021, including a single rocket attack on Monday on Mission Support Site Conoco that resulted in no injuries or damage to the base.
The United States has retaliated by launching four major strikes against the attackers.