On Thursday, March 23, Iranian-sponsored militias rocketed a US base near Hasakah, Syria, where the anti-aircraft system was not fully installed. As a result, one US defense contractor was killed and five US service members and one other American were injured. President Biden authorized US Central Command F-15E fighter jets to respond by conducting an airstrike with precision-guided munitions on a Tehran-backed militia armaments warehouse, command and control building, and an intelligence-collection site in Syria. Following the US airstrike, Iran-backed militia proxies have, for the second time, attacked US forces in Syria.
Syria Missile Attack Reaps Reprisal
“We’re continuing to assess the outcome of the strikes,” Defense Department spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said during a Pentagon press briefing. “Initial indications are that the facilities were destroyed. These precision strikes were intended to protect and defend US personnel, and the US took proportionate and deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize casualties.” It’s safe to say, the US airstrike did not “protect and defend US personnel” in time to prevent American casualties at the Hasakah coalition base. It did, however, give the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) motivation to start tit-for-tat attacks. Soon after the F-15E airstrike, militias lobbed 10 IRGC-supplied rockets at the Green Village close to a US base. Ryder explained:
“Our current assessment is that these rocket attacks were conducted by IRGC-affiliated groups, that this rocket attack was done in an effort to retaliate for last night’s attacks. Again, they did not cause any damage at the coalition facility. As far as any type of future action, I’m not going to talk about or preview potential future operations other than to say we will always reserve the right to respond appropriately if our forces are threatened.”
The Tehran government has made attacking the US and others in Syria and Iraq through proxy terrorist actors a standard operating procedure. It does this so the top sponsor of global terrorism can claim plausible deniability. As if no one knows who’s responsible when a Syrian militia backed by the IRCG fires missiles and attack drones made in Iran into US bases. Such notions are ludicrous. It’s time to take the concept of “proxy” out of the description of Iran’s participation in attacks on the US. American soldiers aren’t proxies for the US defending its interests. They are there representing US interests – no hiding behind the guise of a “proxy.”
“Yesterday, CENTCOM Commander General Kurilla told our committee that Iran-backed proxies have attacked US forces ‘about 78 times’ since January 1st, 2021,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) stated in a recent press release. “It needs to be understood that the IRGC and their proxies are terrorists who seek to harm Americans and undermine our national security, and they will be treated as such.” The willingness, capability, and freedom Iranian-backed militias believe they have don’t seem to square with the US’s strong language. “Be prepared for us to act forcefully to protect our people. That’s exactly what happened last night,” President Biden, referring to the US airstrike, told a news conference during his recent trip to Canada.
Republicans Critical of Biden’s Stance on Iran
Republican lawmakers were not impressed with Biden’s response to the Iran-backed attacks. “President Biden and his national security team are letting America down. I fear General Milley and Secretary of Defense Austin are not proving to be up to the task of providing the deterrence America needs to remain safe,” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tweeted in response to the retaliatory airstrike. “However, the ultimate blame for the failing foreign policy and military situation we find ourselves in lies with President Biden.” Other Republican senators had a dim view of Biden’s addressing attacks on Americans. “Indefensible that American life must be lost before Joe Biden acts. Had he responded in force to dozens of earlier Iranian attacks, this tragedy could have been prevented,” Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) argued in a recent tweet. According to a New York Post report, “Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) criticized Biden for failing to enforce sanctions against the Iranian regime and accused the president of following a ‘doctrine of appeasement.’”
With Americans’ confidence in US military leadership waning, our national security team cannot be feckless or pandering to America’s enemies. It’s time to impress upon the Tehran government that when Iranian stand-ins threaten or harm US soldiers, it will be Iranian soldiers reaping the consequences. Then maybe Biden’s words will not ring as hollow as they do now.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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