US strike on weapons facility in Syria a ‘deterrent’, White House says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. military strikes in Syria are aimed at destroying weaponry and deterring Iranian-backed separatist groups from targeting American personnel in the region in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict, the White House said on Thursday.

The United States carried out strikes on Wednesday against a weapon storage facility in eastern Syria that the Pentagon said was used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups.

President Joe Biden said the United States had to respond after U.S. troops were targeted and that the retaliatory strikes were working. Asked if the U.S. military would respond again, Biden told reporters it would if it had to.

White House spokesman John Kirby separately told CNN that the U.S. strikes “had a practical impact on their ability to arm these groups, but also to send a strong signal of deterrence.”

“These groups have a choice to make: If they want to continue to attack our troops in Iraq and Syria, then they’re gonna have to face the consequences for that,” Kirby added.

U.S. and coalition troops have been attacked at least 40 times in Iraq and Syria by Iran-backed forces since the start of October, as tensions soar over Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in retaliation for Hamas militants’ Oct. 7 attack. Forty-five U.S. troops have suffered traumatic brain injuries or minor wounds.

The United States has occasionally carried out retaliatory strikes against Iranian-backed forces in the region after they attack American forces, including one on Oct. 26.

Iran has denied involvement. Tehran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Amir Saeid Iravani, said on Thursday separatist groups were responding to the Israeli assault that has killed more than 10,800 Palestinians in Gaza.

“It is a natural reaction by the resistance groups. It is their own decision and by their own direction,” Iravani said in an interview with CNN.

The White House rejected the ambassador’s assertion.

“He stands on a real, real, real fine little pin there when he talks about coordination and not directing,” Kirby responded.

“To some degree, they probably do have some measure of autonomy, but they are absolutely encouraged to do these attacks,” Kirby said.

“We know that the IRGC is involved directly with helping these groups make some of the decisions that they’re doing, and in fact directing some of these attacks.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alistair Bell)