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Tensions between Iranian-backed forces and the US-led coalition in Syria have escalated into a limited confrontation, in which both sides sustained losses.
Fighting broke out on August 23, when the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) struck positions of Iranian-backed forces in the northeastern governorate of Deir Ezzor.
Four F-16s and four F-15s carried out the strikes. The fighter jets hit nine positions of Iranian-backed forces near the town of Ayyash in the northern Deir Ezzor countryside with nine precision-guided bombs.
The strikes caused some material losses. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported that six Iranian-backed fighters were killed as a result of the strike. This is yet to be confirmed, however.
The Syrian government did not comment on the strikes. Meanwhile, Iran denied any link to the positions struck in Deir Ezzor. Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said that the strikes were a violation of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
US strikes were meant to deter Iranian-backed forces who were accused of carrying out the August 15 attacks, which targeted the US-led coalition’s Green Village base in the al-Omar oil fields in the southeastern Deir Ezzor countryside and al-Tanf garrison in Syria’s southeastern region. Attacks were a response to the August 14 Israeli strikes on Syria, which killed three soldiers and wounded three others.
Iranian-backed forces were not deterred, however. On August 23, they attacked the US-led coalition’s Conoco gas plant base in the eastern Deir Ezzor countryside as well as the Green Village base with rockets.
CENTCOM acknowledged that the rocket attacks wounded a US service member in the Conoco gas plant, and two others in the Green Village.
The US response was swift. AH-64 Apache attack helicopters of the coalition destroyed three vehicles and weapons of Iranian-backed forces in the southern Deir Ezzor countryside late on August 24.
CENTCOM said that the helicopter strikes killed two to three Iranian-backed fighters. The Arab media said that some of those killed were in fact Iranian members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. However, these claims remain without proof.
Iranian-backed Syrian and Iraqi forces maintain a large presence in the government-held part of Deir Ezzor in order to counter ISIS remnants and pressure the US-led coalition, who occupies all key gas and oil fields in Syria’s northeastern region.
The limited confrontation between the US and Iranian-backed forces in Syria came amid reports of progress in the talks on the revival of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. Confrontation could drag on for days or weeks, as both sides are apparently trying to demonstrate to their allies that the return to the nuclear deal will not affect their other policies.