MS Risk Blog

Escalating U.S. airstrikes in Syria and Iraq: a new phase of conflict in the Middle East

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In response to a drone strike that killed three U.S. soldiers at the U.S. Tower 22 facility in Jordan, the United States began targeted airstrikes against Iran-backed militia positions in Syria and Iraq. President Biden emphasised a measured approach, while Syrian and Iraqi authorities expressed alarm over sovereignty violation.

The U.S. has launched targeted airstrikes on multiple sites in Syria and Iraq from February 2nd, primarily aimed at Iran-backed militia groups and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, in response to a drone strike that killed three U.S. service members in Jordan and injured more than 30, on January 28th. The strikes, involving more than 85 targets, focused on command-and-control operations, intelligence centres, weapons storage facilities, and logistical supply chains associated with the militia groups and their IRGC sponsors. More specifically, areas that were targeted include Deir Ezzor, Al-Bukamal, Al-Mayadeen, and their surrounds on the Syrian-Iraqi border. President Joe Biden has stated that the U.S. is against conflict but would respond to any harm committed to Americans. U.S. officials have clarified that there is no plan to bomb Iran directly, aiming to avoid further escalation. However, the airstrikes have sparked concerns about regional instability and sovereignty violations, with Iraqi officials warning of potential consequences. The U.S. has indicated that these strikes are the beginning of a broader response, with additional actions planned to hold accountable those responsible for attacks on U.S. and coalition forces.

The centre purpose of the airstrikes was to retaliate against Iran-backed militia groups responsible for attacks on U.S. personnel, to degrade their capabilities, and to deter future attacks. Strategically, the airstrikes aimed to disrupt the militia groups’ operational capabilities, hinder their ability to launch attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, and send a strong message about the United States’ determination to defend its soldiers and interests in the region.

In terms of effectiveness, the airstrikes succeeded in hitting multiple targets associated with the militia groups and the IRGC Quds Force, causing significant damage and reportedly resulting in the deaths of at least 18 Iran-backed fighters. However, the long-term impact on the capabilities of these groups and their willingness to continue engaging in hostilities remains to be seen.

The consequences of the airstrikes on civilian casualties and infrastructure in Syria is not fully clear at this time. While the strikes were reportedly focused on military targets, there is always a risk of unintended civilian casualties or damage to infrastructure near the targeted areas. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has already reported that 23 people had been killed in Syria, bringing the total number killed in both countries to 39. On the other hand, Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces, a state security force that includes Iran-backed organisations, reported 16 of its personnel were killed, including fighters and doctors. The authorities had stated that at least 16 individuals, including civilians, were killed and 23 were injured.