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US military strikes Iran-linked targets in eastern Syria

Iran denies links with group struck in Syria's Deir Ezzor province
A US soldier stands near a child during a patrol near the Syrian-Turkish border in a village in Syria's northeastern Hasakah province on 21 August 2022 (AFP)

The US military said it conducted air strikes on targets used by Iran-backed groups in eastern Syria’s Deir Ezzor province on Tuesday. 

The Central Command said in a statement that the strikes aimed to protect US troops from groups allegedly affiliated with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The statement did not mention whether there were any casualties or whether the air strikes were carried out by manned or unmanned aircraft.

“Today’s strikes were necessary to protect and defend US personnel,” Colonel Joe Buccino, communications director of US Central Command, said in a statement. “The United States does not seek conflict, but will continue to take necessary measures to protect and defend our people,” he added. 

Later on Wednesday, however, Iran's foreign ministry denied any link with the groups.

A ministry statement strongly condemned the "terrorist act" by the US, saying it represents a "violation of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria."

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The strikes came as Washington is expected to respond to a draft agreement proposed by the European Union to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

The strikes were carried out at President Joe Biden’s direction after US forces in Syria reported a drone attack on one of their outposts near a Syria-Iraq border crossing on 15 August. There were no casualties or damage reported.

The outpost is located near a land route used by Iran to smuggle arms to its allies in Syria, according to Reuters.

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"The president gave the direction for these strikes," said spokesman Army Colonel Joe Buccino.

Central Command called the strikes a "proportionate, deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimise the risk of casualties." 

US forces have been deployed in Syria since the Obama administration in 2014 to help with the fight against the Islamic State, in partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

There are about 900 US troops in Syria, most of them in the east.

Iran-backed militias have been fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since the 2011 popular revolution against his rule.

They are heavily concentrated west of the Euphrates in Deir Ezzor province, where they get supplies from Iraq through the al-Bukamal border crossing, according to Reuters.

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