October 19, 2023 | Flash Brief

Shiite Terrorist Groups in Syria Attack U.S. Forces

October 19, 2023 | Flash Brief

Shiite Terrorist Groups in Syria Attack U.S. Forces

Latest Developments

Iran-backed Shiite militias attacked U.S. forces in eastern Syria with armed drones on October 18. The assault follows drone attacks on two coalition bases in Iraq the day before. The Associated Press (AP) reported that U.S. forces shot one drone that targeted the al-Tanf garrison, located near the Syria-Iraq border, but failed to shoot down another drone that caused serious injuries. The AP reported another drone strike at the Conoco gas field in the Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor, where a small contingent of U.S. special forces is based. Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder confirmed that U.S. forces in multiple locations across Iraq and Syria came under attack by aerial drones on October 17 and October 18. Thus far, no individual group has claimed responsibility for either of the attacks. Approximately 900 U.S. soldiers remain in Syria and approximately 2,500 remain in Iraq to support efforts to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS).

Expert Analysis

“These militias have harassed U.S troops in Syria with rocket fire and drone attacks for more than two and a half years. They keep doing it because they don’t have to pay a price. In the one instance where the militias killed a U.S. contractor, the administration responded with a handful of airstrikes, then the attacks resumed. Rather than wait for an ugly surprise that costs more American lives, the president should make clear to the militias and their patrons in Tehran that they will pay a price for every attack.” — David Adesnik, FDD Senior Fellow and Director of Research

“Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime seek to expel U.S. forces from Syria. An American military departure from Syria would deal a serious blow to efforts to prevent a return of the ISIS caliphate and would make it easier for Tehran to smuggle arms to Hezbollah and tighten its ring of fire around Israel.”Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

Iranian Proxies Frequently Attack American Interests

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress in March 2023 that Iran-backed groups had struck U.S. positions in Syria and Iraq 83 times since January 2021 — with only four U.S. responses. In one response in March 2023, U.S. forces carried out precision airstrikes against groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in eastern Syria. The airstrikes followed a drone attack on a coalition base in northeastern Syria that killed one American contractor and wounded six others. In another response in August 2022, U.S. forces conducted airstrikes against Iranian proxy group ammunition and logistics bunkers in northeast Syria following an attack on al-Tanf.

Iran and Its Allies Plot to Expel U.S. From Region

Al-Tanf is on a vital road connecting Baghdad to Damascus. The U.S. presence limits Iran’s use of the route to send fighters and weapons to Syria and its Lebanese proxies. Reports regarding classified documents leaked on the messaging platform Discord in April 2023 indicated that Iran and Russia have been working to drive American forces from the region, with Iran arming and training militias on the use of drones, rockets, and armor-piercing roadside bombs against American troops. More recently, a July 27 AP report recounted the comments of a senior U.S. official saying Washington was detecting “more cooperation, collaboration, planning and intelligence sharing, largely between mid-level Russian and Iranian Quds force leaders in Syria,” with the goal of pushing the U.S. military out of the country.

Iran-Backed Militias Attack U.S. Forces in Iraq,” FDD Flash Brief

State designates Iran-backed League of the Righteous as Foreign Terrorist Organization,” by Bill Roggio

Iran-backed Militias Target U.S. Troops in Eastern Syria,” by Joe Truzman


Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Russia Syria