BAGHDAD (AP) — U.S.-backed Syrian fighters and American troops foiled an attack with drones Wednesday on a base housing members of the U.S.-led coalition in eastern Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces said. In neighboring Iraq, rockets hit a base housing U.S. troops, inflicting two minor injuries.
The attacks come as tension has been on the rise between U.S. troops and Iran-backed fighters after American airstrikes in eastern Syria killed four Iraqi fighters late last month in areas along the Syria-Iraq border. The Pentagon said targets attacked on June 27, were facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups to support drone strikes inside Iraq.
The spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition Col. Wayne Marotto said that Al-Assad Air Base in western Iraq was attacked early in the afternoon by 14 rockets that landed on the base and its perimeter, prompting the activation of defensive measures. Marotto later tweeted: “100 % accountability at Ain Al-Assad Air Base after rocket attack. Two personnel sustained minor injuries.” The damage was still to be assessed, he added without elaborating.
A statement from the Security Media Cell, affiliated with Iraq’s security forces, said a mobile rocket launcher hidden in a truck loaded with bags of flour and parked in the nearby village of Baghdadi was used in the attack. It added that 14 rockets were fired toward the base while the rest exploded on the truck, damaging some village homes and a mosque.
Iraq’s government called it a “terrorist attack” and a “flagrant violation” of Iraqi laws.
A previously unknown group calling itself “The brigades to avenge al-Muhandis,” said its members fired 30 rockets toward the base “run by American occupiers.” It added a message to U.S. troops: “We will force you to leave our lands defeated.”
The group is named after Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis who was killed last year in a U.S. drone attack in Baghdad along with Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
In Syria, the U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led forces said in a statement they foiled an attack that was using drones on Wednesday morning on the al-Omar oil field in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour. There were no damages, the statement said.
The same al-Omar base was attacked with two rockets over the weekend, according to the Syrian Kurdish-led forces and a Syrian opposition activist. There were no casualties in that attack. The U.S. military denied there were any attacks on Sunday.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the drones took off from areas controlled by Iran-backed fighters in the eastern Syrian town of Mayadeen.
Drone attacks against the U.S.-led coalition in Syria are not common. Hundreds of U.S. troops are stationed in northeastern Syria, working with the Kurdish-led fighters in battling the Islamic State group.
Thousands of Iran-backed militiamen from around the Middle East are deployed in different parts of Syria, many of them in areas along the border with Iraq.
The leader of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia vowed on Monday to retaliate against America for the deaths of four of his men in a U.S. airstrike along the Iraq-Syria border last month. Abu Alaa al-Walae, commander of the Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada group, said the revenge attack will be a military operation everyone will talk about.
The U.S. has blamed Iran-backed militias for attacks — most of them rocket strikes — that have targeted the American presence in Baghdad and at military bases across Iraq. The attacks have recently become more sophisticated, with militants using drones.
Late Tuesday, the counter-terrorism unit in Iraq’s northern Kurdish-run region reported a drone attack on Irbil airport, near where U.S. forces are based. The statement by the counter-terrorism unit said the attack caused no damage, though the missiles fell in open fields and set fires.
Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.