U.S. air defenses not fully working ahead of strike that killed American in Syria: reports

The main air defense system at a military base housing U.S. troops and personnel in Northeast Syria was not fully working Thursday when a drone attack killed one American contractor at the facility, multiple outlets reported Friday.  

The New York Times first reported that the electronic counter-defense system was not fully functional at the coalition base known as RLZ. One U.S. official told the outlet the Avenger missile defense system at the base may have been experiencing a maintenance problem at the time of the attack. 

Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters Friday that “there was a complete sight picture in terms of radar,” but declined to offer further details, citing operational security. He added that U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) “will conduct a review to assess what happened.” 

The U.S. military launched retaliatory attacks roughly 13 hours after a drone “of Iranian origin” crashed into the base near Hasakah, killing the contractor and injuring five U.S. service members and another contractor, Ryder said.  

Two Air Force F-15E fighter jets struck two facilities in eastern Syria affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), with initial assessments that the facilities were destroyed.  

Asked how the drone was able to crash into the base even with the radar working, Ryder shifted blame to Iranian-backed militias in the area. 

“This is a dangerous part of the world. The work that we do is inherently dangerous, that’s why you have the military in these types of places conducting these types of operations,” Ryder said. “CENTCOM will do an assessment in terms of the attack. But the fact is that these IRGC-backed groups conducted this attack and unfortunately, we had an American killed.” 

He also would not say if there was an effort to shoot down the drone, only noting that “we take a variety of measures to safeguard our people.” 

Iranian-backed fighters on Friday responded to the U.S. strikes with retaliatory rockets aimed at the Green Village base, located in the Al-Omar gas field of northeastern Syria. 

Washington has not taken further strikes off the table, with CENTCOM head Gen. Michael Kurilla saying the U.S. military will “always take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing.” 

Amidst the tit-for-tat, the Biden administration has insisted it doesn’t seek to escalate the situation. 

“We don’t seek conflict or war with Iran. Our focus in Syria is on the enduring defeat of ISIS,” Ryder said. 

Appearing on CNN Friday morning, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby skirted questions on whether the United States considered the recent attacks an “act of war.” 

“We don’t seek a war with Iran. We’re not looking for an armed conflict with that country or another war in the region,” Kirby said. “We do seek to protect our mission in Syria, which is about defeating ISIS, and we do seek to make sure we can protect our people and our facilities against these Iran-backed groups.” 

Tags CENTCOM Iran pentagon President Joe Biden Syria

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