US launches third strike on Iran-linked groups amid attacks on US soldiers: Officials

The locations were a weapons depot and a command center in Syria.

“Within the last two hours, the United States has launched precision defensive strikes against two locations in Syria,” an official told ABC News.

The US military said the strikes are part of a larger deterrence strategy aimed at preventing other groups from escalating the conflict in the region, where tensions have been sharply inflamed by fighting between Israel and Hamas.

“The president has no higher priority than the safety of American personnel, and he directed today’s action to make clear that the United States will defend itself, its personnel and its interests,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Sunday.

The attacks were “intended to disrupt and degrade the freedom of action and capability” of the groups “directly responsible for attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria,” Austin added Monday during a news conference in South Korea with counterpart Shin Wonsik.

“And we have said, and we will continue to say, that we will take every precaution necessary to protect our troops, the safety of our troops and our civilians. That is our utmost importance to the President of the United States and to me,” Austin said.

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General Michael Kurilla, head of US Central Command, also issued a statement calling the strikes a “response” to “continued provocations by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and their affiliates in Iraq and Syria.”

“The United States will continue to defend itself, its personnel, and its interests,” the statement concluded.

The strikes were the third round of retaliation, according to the Pentagon: The military said on Wednesday that warplanes struck a weapons storage facility in eastern Syria used by Iran-backed militants responsible for dozens of drone and missile attacks on US troops. in the region during the previous three weeks.

“We hold Iran responsible for these attacks, not just the militia groups,” a senior defense official told reporters at the time.

Ten days after Hamas launched its attack on Israel on Oct. 7 that triggered the war, Iran-backed militants began what has become a wave of near-daily aggression, US officials have said.

In each case, the Iranian-linked attackers “fired on what they believed to be a very large number of US personnel with the intent to kill them,” a senior military official said last week.

On October 26, in the first strikes, US warplanes hit two weapons and ammunition facilities in eastern Syria that officials said were used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and affiliated groups.

“Iran wants to hide its hand and deny its role in these attacks against our forces. We will not allow them,” Austin said at the time. “If attacks by Iran’s proxies against US forces continue, we will not hesitate to take further necessary measures to protect our people.”

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ABC News’ Lauren Minore contributed to this report.