Washington claims “protecting” its illegal outposts is “consistent with international law”
US President Joe Biden has offered legal justification for American airstrikes on eastern Syria this week, saying the operations were a rightful response to a string of drone and rocket attacks on US forces in the region.
In a letter to US lawmakers published on Friday, the White House said the air operations were in line with presidential war powers, and followed repeated “attacks against United States personnel and facilities in Iraq and Syria” this month.
“At my direction, on the night of October 26, 2023, United States forces conducted targeted strikes against facilities in eastern Syria,” Biden said, adding that the sorties hit sites used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and “affiliated groups.”
The strikes “were intended to establish deterrence and were conducted in a manner to limit the risk of escalation and avoid civilian casualties,” the letter continued, describing them as “necessary and proportionate.”
The Pentagon first announced the military action on Thursday night, saying the mission was in “self-defense” and aimed “solely to protect and defend US personnel in Iraq and Syria.” Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder later said US warplanes hit weapons and ammunition caches near the border town of al-Bukamal, claiming “both facilities were destroyed.” While National Security Council spokesman John Kirby noted that officials were still reviewing the operation, he warned that US forces would “not hesitate to take further actions in our own self-defense.”
American bases in the two countries have come under fire no less than 16 times since October 17, according to US Central Command. Several soldiers have been injured in that time, in addition to a civilian contractor who died of a heart attack during one barrage.
Up to 1,000 US troops are currently deployed in Syria, occupying key oil fields and Euphrates River crossings with the support of a Kurdish-led militia. The government in Damascus has repeatedly protested that their presence violates international law.
The spike in rocket and drone attacks has coincided with renewed fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, which has claimed more than 8,000 lives on both sides, according to local officials.
Washington has responded to the soaring tensions with significant military deployments, including two aircraft carrier strike groups in the Mediterranean, an amphibious assault ship carrying 2,000 soldiers near the Israeli coast, and 900 other troops sent to undisclosed locations in the Middle East. US officials have said the moves were meant to bolster its “force protection” in the region and deter outside actors from involvement in the Gaza war.