(CNN)Rockets landed at a US military base in eastern Syria, prompting US forces to return fire on Monday, a day after the US carried out airstrikes on Iranian-backed militias, according to a spokesman for the US-led military mission in Syria.
A US defense official with direct knowledge of the rocket fire said it is “likely” they were launched by Iranian-backed militias operating in the immediate area, near Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, but the origin of the rockets has not been confirmed and the official could not immediately say how many projectiles were fired. Some rockets did land within the immediate vicinity of US troops, but early reports indicated there were no injuries.
“U.S. Forces in Syria were attacked by multiple rockets. There are no injuries and damage is being assessed,” Col. Wayne Maratto, a spokesman for the US-led mission in Syria, tweeted.
Maratto later added in a second tweet that, “U.S. Forces in Syria, while under multiple rocket attack, acted in self- defense and conducted counter-battery artillery fire at rocket launching positions.”
On Sunday, the White House said it had directed the military to conduct defensive precision airstrikes against facilities used by Iran-backed militia groups in the Iraq-Syria border region following a recent spate of attacks against US military facilities and personnel in Iraq by a new class of Iranian-made drones that US officials say can evade US surveillance and defenses.
President Joe Biden, speaking at the White House during a visit by outgoing Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, referred to some US lawmakers who think he might have overstepped his authority by directing the Sunday strikes and want Congress to authorize military action.
“I directed last night’s airstrikes targeting sites used by the Iranian-backed militia groups responsible for recent attacks on US personnel in Iraq,” Biden said Monday. “And I have that authority under Article II, and even those up in the Hill who are reluctant to acknowledge that have acknowledged that’s the case.”
Monday’s apparent retaliation took place at an oil field site the US calls “Green Village” in the larger security zone where some 900 US troops operate to protect support local Syrian fighters against ISIS.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken, speaking in Rome on Monday, said the US airstrikes on the Iraq-Syria border were meant “to disrupt and deter” attacks against US personnel in Iraq, though they prompted condemnation from Baghdad.
“We took necessary, appropriate, deliberate action that is designed to limit the risk of escalation, but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message,” Blinken said at a news conference in Rome, where he is attending a meeting focused on stability in Syria and the terror group ISIS.
The exchange marks an escalation in tensions between Washington and Tehran, which have been gridlocked in talks to coordinate their mutual return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear treaty. The US has signaled that it could walk away if progress isn’t seen soon, while Iran said Monday it has yet to decide whether it will permit international inspectors to monitor and verify its commitments under the deal.
During his meeting with Rivlin on Monday, Biden committed to the relationship between the US and Israel — and to making sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.
“Iran will never get a nuclear weapon on my watch, as they say,” Biden said.
The rocket fire also comes less than two weeks after the election of a hardline candidate to be Iran’s next president.
Blinken and the State Department were “very engaged” as planning for the US attack on Iranian-backed militias came together, State Department officials tell CNN, adding that Sunday’s strike was a carefully planned mission. “There was a process as you might expect, involving the military, State Department, other relevant department and agencies that proceeded these operations,” explained one official.
Members of the de-ISIS coalition attending the meeting in Rome did not raise the US airstrikes along the Syria-Iraq border during meetings on Monday, senior State Department officials said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, discussing the Sunday strikes, said Biden also viewed them as “necessary” an
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