PENTAGON – U.S. troops in Syria have returned fire after a rocket attack targeted American forces there Monday, according to a military spokesman.
“U.S. Forces in Syria, while under multiple rocket attack, acted in self-defense and conducted counter-battery artillery fire at rocket launching positions,” U.S. Colonel Wayne Marotto, the spokesman for the international military intervention against Islamic State, wrote on Twitter.
The rockets targeted a military base in Deir ez-Zour known as Green Village, multiple sources with knowledge of the attack confirmed to VOA. Marotto told VOA the U.S. responded to the rockets with 155 mm artillery rounds.
The rocket attack caused no injuries, and damage is still being assessed, Marotto wrote on Twitter.
The back and forth of rockets and artillery rounds came hours after the U.S. military said it struck three targets near the border between Syria and Iraq used by Iranian-backed militias to carry out drone attacks on U.S. personnel and facilities.
“I directed last night’s airstrikes targeting sites used by the Iranian-backed militia groups responsible for recent attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq,” U.S. President Joe Biden said Monday in the Oval Office.
Overnight, the U.S. struck weapons storage and operational facilities used by militias such as Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS), according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby. Two of the targets were inside Syria and one was inside Iraq.
“The attacks against our troops need to stop, and that is why the president ordered the operation last night in self-defense of our personnel,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday.
U.S. troops in Iraq have come under attack from drone strikes three times in a “little over a month,” General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, told VOA in an interview in Cairo on June 15. The attacks resulted in no casualties.
“There are a lot of drones in Iraq. Some of them are indigenous. Some of them came from Iran. We’re certain of that,” McKenzie said.
WATCH: General Frank McKenzie Talks to VOA About Drones
Pentagon spokesperson Navy Commander Jessica McNulty added on Monday that “Iran-backed militias have conducted at least five one-way UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) attacks against facilities used by U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq since April, as well as ongoing rocket attacks against U.S. and coalition forces.”
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are well-postured to defend our forces around the region and respond to any threats or attacks,” she said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday condemned the U.S. airstrike on its soil, calling it a violation of national sovereignty that breached international conventions. Iraq’s military said its country should not be an arena “for settling scores.”
Psaki noted that the U.S. agrees with a call for de-escalation from the Iraqi prime minister but said Monday the administration felt confident in its “legal justification” for the strikes.
“President Biden has been clear that he will act to protect U.S. personnel,” the Pentagon’s John Kirby said in a late Sunday statement, adding that the strikes were “appropriately limited in scope.”
Rocket and drone attacks against coalition troops have been somewhat frequent since a drone strike in January 2020 near the Baghdad airport killed Qasem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the strike.
Sunday’s strikes were the second time that the Biden administration has ordered attacks against Iranian-backed groups. In late February, the U.S. targeted buildings in Syria belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militias responsible for attacks against American and allied personnel in Iraq.
During Monday’s joint press conference with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio in Rome, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. took “necessary, appropriate, deliberate action” designed to limit the risk of escalation while sending a “clear and unambiguous” message of deterrence.
President Biden, speaking at the White House, said he had proper authorization to order Sunday’s defensive strikes.
“I have that authority under Article II (of the Constitution), and even those up in the Hill who are reluctant to acknowledge that, have acknowledged that’s the case,” Biden said.
Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, shared concern that the pace of attacks on U.S. personnel and the number of retaliatory strikes from Iran-backed groups was “starting to look like what would qualify as a pattern of hostilities under the War Powers Act.”
“Both the Constitution and the War Powers Act require the president to come to Congress for a war declaration under these circumstances,” Murphy said in a statement.
Senator Jim Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke out against Iranian-backed militias and said the attacks “highlight the continued need” for Congress’ 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, which Congress is currently debating whether to revoke.
The AUMF authorizes all necessary force against entities the president determines aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such terrorists, in order to prevent any future attacks against the United States.
“Iran’s persistent attacks on American personnel via its proxies cannot be tolerated,” Inhofe said in a statement. “We need a more focused and clear approach on Iran from President Biden — not one that occasionally responds to its threats, but too often seeks to appease it.”
State Department correspondent Nike Ching and White House bureau chief Steve Herman contribute to this report.