U.S. troops shot down two drones targeting American forces in southern Syria on Monday, the latest in a string of drone attacks targeting American bases and facilities in the Middle East as officials warn of a “significant threat” of escalation in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder told reporters that Iranian-backed forces launched two one-way attack drones at al-Tanf garrison on Monday that were taken out by American defense systems, resulting in no injuries.
“We know that these groups are groups that are backed by Iran,” Ryder said. “We will ultimately hold Iran responsible.”
The attack marked at least the fifth drone or rocket attack on U.S. forces in the Middle East in a week, which the Pentagon has described as an “uptick.” Some of the attacks resulted in minor injuries and damage.
“There is a significant threat of escalation throughout the region, and that would be, that would include towards U.S. forces,” a senior military official told reporters.
Last week, two drones targeted al-Tanf in Syria. A drone targeted Al-Harir Air Base — formerly Bashur Air Base — in northern Iraq. Two drones targeted al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq, and rockets targeted U.S. and coalition forces near Baghdad’s International Airport.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Saturday placed an undisclosed number of troops on prepare-to-deploy orders and activated the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery, as well as additional Patriot batteries to locations throughout the region to increase force protection for U.S. forces.
“What you see from this posture announcement … is that we are preparing for this escalation, both in terms of defending our forces and being prepared to respond decisively," a senior defense official told reporters Monday.
These moves come after Austin had already placed more than 2,000 military personnel on heightened alert with a prepare-to-deploy order last Tuesday.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group is speeding to the Middle East region, and the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group remains in the eastern Mediterranean.
Three ships with the USS Bataan amphibious ready group are positioning thousands of Marines in waters near Israel. A squadron of A-10 attack aircraft has arrived in the Middle East, with another A-10 squadron's deployment extended, and more F-15 and F-16 fighter jets also are rolling into the region.
The U.S. has said the increased military presence is intended to deter malign actors such as Hezbollah or Iran from expanding the conflict.
Last week, the USS Carney, a Navy destroyer in the Red Sea, shot down four missiles and multiple drones launched by Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, weapons that the Pentagon said were "heading along the Red Sea, potentially toward targets in Israel."
Ryder had originally said on Thursday that three missiles were intercepted.
There were no casualties, and the ship did not appear to be the target of the attack, Ryder said.
Since Hamas’s bloody October 7 attack on Israel, at least 1,400 Israelis have been killed and at least 5,000 Palestinians have died.