Are there new Iranian-backed attacks on US forces in Syria? - analysis

Over the last two years, pro-Iranian groups in Syria and Iraq have targeted US forces.

 US forces set up a new base in Manbij, Syria May 8, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/RODI SAID)
US forces set up a new base in Manbij, Syria May 8, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/RODI SAID)

Iran’s pro-government media said on Thursday that a US base at the Conoco gas facility, near the Omar oil field in eastern Syria, was targeted by a “heavy rocket attack.”

The attack took place on Wednesday. If corroborated, this would be the latest in a string of attacks on US bases in Syria by pro-Iranian groups in Syria and Iraq over the last two years. The US has retaliated to these attacks with airstrikes.

The news report relied on a Russian report about the strike on Omar field and the US facility near it. The US has backed and continues to back the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the conflict with ISIS for at least five years.

The US also has a garrison at Tanf near the area of the Syria-Jordan-Iraq border. While the US officially has only several hundred soldiers in Syria, the small numbers nevertheless carry a major influence in aiding the SDF against ISIS and securing eastern Syria to ensure regional stability. The US has sent armored vehicles to Syria as well, and US Central Command recently highlighted new training with the SDF.

According to DeirEzzor24, an independent Syrian news outlet, Iranian militias stationed on the outskirts of al-Mayadin fired rockets at the Omar oil-field base of the Coalition forces.

Al-Mayadin, near the Euphrates River, is located downstream from Deir Ezzor. It is known as a pro-Iranian base camp for pro-Iran forces in the area. These forces also maintain areas in Albukamal and the Imam Ali military base near the border with Iraq.

 Rocket fired by Iran-backed groups towards base hosting US forces in northeastern Syria, January 5, 2022 (credit: Courtesy/Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve) Rocket fired by Iran-backed groups towards base hosting US forces in northeastern Syria, January 5, 2022 (credit: Courtesy/Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve)

Proxies in other countries

Iran has proxies in Iraq and Syria and moves weapons to Hezbollah via Syria. A recent airstrike on Damascus Airport was reportedly targeting weapons transfers by Iran to Syria. That would make sense as Iran is an ally of the Syrian regime, which recently held high-level meetings with the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Turkey.

Iran is commemorating the two-year anniversary of the US drone strike which killed IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Iran wants revenge for those killings. It’s possible the reports about the attack in Syria are part of a message or symbolic attack and threat against the US in Syria.

The US also has forces in northern Iraq in Erbil and the US is building a large consulate in Erbil. Iran has previously targeted US forces in northern Iraq and also at the Al-Asad base and in Baghdad near the airport and US embassy. Those attacks reached a peak in 2019-2021. Iran has now shifted focus to Syria.  

According to reports from Tasnim and Russia’s Sputnik news agency, “Unknown persons targeted the base with a number of rockets and all of them that were fired hit the American base in the Al-Omar oil field.”

This is comparable to the mafia saying, “It would be a shame if something happened to your shop,” when it is very much the mafia that is targeting the shop. 

Tasnim used the word “explosions” to describe what was seen in the Al-Omar field area. It also said that US “helicopters and drones” were flown after the incident. The report added that the incident took place Wednesday at Conoco field in eastern Syria – an important energy facility.

“These sources announced that the said military base was the target of the strongest rocket attack and as a result, it caused a fire at the base. There is also a strong possibility that a number of American soldiers were also injured in this attack,” the report said.

US Central Command on Wednesday announced that two rockets targeted coalition forces in northeast Syria. Those rockets were fired around 9 a.m. near Conoco

The attack resulted in no injuries or damage to the base or coalition property,” the statement read, according to Rudaw media, adding that the “Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) visited the rocket origin site and found a third unfired rocket.” 

It remains unclear if the attack Iran bragged about on Thursday is actually an escalation beyond what was known on Wednesday. Overall, Iranian media appear to be hinting at more attacks to come and that Iran has the capability to fire numerous rockets at US forces. It is boasting about the attack this week in this context.

On January 1, 2022, Iranian 107mm rockets were also found aimed at Omar field, and rockets were fired at the Conoco base area. This appears to be similar to the event this year.