Iranian drones and US fighter jets in first ever duel over East Syria
Iran challenged the US for their first gloves-off duel on Friday, March 24, by hitting back at the Americans for retaliating when their facility in East Syria was struck by armed drones operated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and their proxy militias on the Syrian-Iraqi border. This military clash between Iran and the US is unprecedented on Syrian soil.
The event was set off on Thursday when IRGC-backed Shiite militias launched suicide drones against the US military facility guarding the Al Omar oil field (see photo) in the east Syrian province of Deir Ez-Zor, killing an American contractor and injuring five US military personnel. US retaliation was defined by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as “precision strikes on multiple targets in Deir Ez-Zor.”
DEBKAfile names those targets as a militias arsenal which was razed, an intelligence base outside the town of Mayadeen and a third facility near Abu Kamal. At least 10 people were killed, including Iranian officials, according to Syrian opposition sources.
The US defense secretary elaborated in a statement: “The airstrikes were conducted in response to today’s attack as well as a series of recent attacks against Coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.” After for the first time addressing the IRGC by name, he emphasized that the airstrikes had been directed by President Joe Biden. “No group will strike our troops with impunity,” he said.
On Friday, defiant Iran’s militias nevertheless launched rockets against the US military guard defending the Al Omar oil field, having no qualms about demonstrating that the policy of impunity was not a one-way street.
Some straight talk on the subject was heard for the first time in Washington: It came from US Central Command chief Gen. Michael Kurilla, who said: “We are postured for scalable options in the face of any additional Iranian attacks.” Addressing the Armed Forces Committee in Congress, Kurilla said: “Iran’s drone fleet has become the largest and most capable unmanned aerial vehicle force in the region.”
This statement must have switched on some red lights in Israel too, given its own highly sophisticated UAV fleet. But even more so, since Tehran has clearly become brazen enough to challenge the US military head-on. This over-confidence may derive from the diplomatic rapprochement Iran recently achieved with its senior Gulf rival Saudi Arabia with China’s backing.