Iran-Backed Militias Challenging U.S. Troops in the Middle East

On October 7, 2023, Hamas militants launched a coordinated terrorist attack on Israel, resulting in about 1,200 Israeli dead and more than 200 hostages taken back to Gaza. Israel has responded with massive airstrikes and now a ground offensive on Gaza.

The United States has deployed two aircraft carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean to support Israel, and to send a signal to Iran and its supporting regional actors such as Hizballah not to intervene in the ongoing conflict.

Consequently, U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria are facing increased attacks in the midst of the Israel–Hamas war.

Although Hizballah has not yet become heavily involved in the conflict, the group has been launching rockets on Israel that have caused several casualties and displaced many people. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Tehran-backed militias, has conducted dozens of attacks against U.S. troops and their military bases in Iraq and Syria.

Since October 17—10 days into the Israel–Hamas war—more than 55 attacks have occurred in Iraq and Syria, resulting in at least 46 U.S. personnel and service members being wounded. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq has claimed responsibility for most of the attacks against U.S. bases and troops. An Iran-backed militia launched drones and rockets targeting U.S. military facilities such as al-Asad Airbase in Iraq’s western Anbar province and al-Tanf Military Base in Homs governorate of Syria. The militants targeted al-Omar Oil Field, Conoco Gas Field, and the pipelines in the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor in Syria. The militia has vowed to target U.S. bases in the region as part of its support for the people of Gaza. Further, Houthi militants launched land-attack cruise missiles and several drones from the Red Sea, potentially aimed at Israel, but these were intercepted and shot down by the U.S. Navy destroyer operating in the northern Red Sea.

Figure 1. Iran-backed militia attacks from October 17, 2023, through November 8, 2023

In response to the recent attacks by Iranian-aligned militia groups, on October 26 the U.S. military carried out airstrikes on two facilities near al-Bukamal in eastern Syria and again, on November 8, U.S. fighter jets conducted a second round of airstrikes on a weapons storage facility in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated groups.