6 US servicemen suffered head injuries in attacks in Syria
WASHINGTON — Six U.S. service members suffered traumatic brain injuries in separate attacks by Iran-backed militants in Syria last week, the Pentagon said Thursday.
The Pentagon initially said seven Americans were injured in the attacks and one American contractor was killed. But additional injuries have been diagnosed during routine screenings in recent days, Brig. Pentagon spokesman Gen. Patrick S. Ryder told reporters Thursday.
In recent years, the Pentagon has attempted to better understand the effects on service members of traumatic brain injury, which sometimes results in long-term physical or mental disabilities.
The diagnoses followed two attacks. The first, a strike from a self-destructing drone on March 23, hit a coalition base in northeast Syria, killing the civilian contractor, who was an auto mechanic.
Two American F-15E fighter jets retaliated later in the day by launching airstrikes against militant sites linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful branch of the Iranian military. General Ryder said eight militants were killed in the strike.
The next day, Iranian-backed militias launched a flurry of rocket and drone attacks that injured another American. US warplanes were set to carry out a second round of retaliatory strikes on Friday night, but a senior US official said the White House had decided to suspend.
The United States has more than 900 troops and hundreds of other contractors in Syria, working with Kurdish fighters to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State, which was apparently defeated as the caliphate in 2019 after a violent five-year campaign in Iraq and Syria. .
As the Biden administration focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a potential future conflict with China, the military mission against Islamic State in Syria has become a side issue. The mission only received greater attention when Iranian-backed militias or Islamic State militants attacked US troops moving in and out of a handful of bases there.
For the Biden administration, it’s a balancing act. President Biden has made it clear that he has no interest in continuing the so-called eternal wars that were part of the national psyche for the first 20 years of this century. He withdrew US troops from Afghanistan in 2021 and kept them away from Ukraine, while asking Pentagon planners to focus on Asia and the potential for great power conflicts with Russia and China.
Those long-running conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the administration says, are a thing of the past, except in Syria, where Iran-backed militias have launched dozens of attacks over the past year on or near bases where American troops are stationed.