The USS George H. W. Bush Strike Group has postponed its departure from the Mediterranean Sea for the purpose of protecting American forces in Syria.
By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner
Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh stated that while there are “no plans to change our footprint at this time in Syria,” that the strike group was “repositioned” following increased attacks by proxies of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) “targeting our service members across Syria, and so as a precaution we did move the carrier to be slightly closer, but it’s still in the purview of EUCOMM.”
Washington had already last week decided to extend the deployment of the George H.W. Bush carrier to provide options to policymakers, delaying the slated return of over 5,000 servicemembers from the European Command operational area to home port in the US.
“The extension of the George HW Bush Carrier Strike Group, inclusive of the USS Leyte Gulf, the USS Delbert D. Black, and the USNS Arctic, allows options to potentially bolster the capabilities of CENTCOM to respond to a range of contingencies in the Middle East,” said US Central Command (CENTCOM) Spokesperson Colonel Joe Buccino.
Col. Buccino also noted a scheduled, expedited deployment of a squadron of A-10 attack aircraft to the region.
News of the deployment came a day after the Pentagon doubled its tally of the number of American troops wounded in 23 March attacks by three drones of Iranian origin on a US base near the Syrian city of Hasaka to 12, following the diagnosis of six US military personnel with traumatic brain injuries. The attacks also killed an American contractor and injured another.
The US military responded the same day by launching multiple air strikes on Iranian proxies in Syria. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the retaliation was carried out at the direction of President Joe Biden and targeted facilities used by groups affiliated with the IRGC, pledging, “No group will strike our troops with impunity.”
About 900 US soldiers are stationed in Syria.
President Biden has warned Iran that the United States would act forcefully to protect Americans. The Pentagon has estimated eight militants were killed during retaliatory US air strikes against two Iran-linked facilities in Syria.
US troops have come under attack by Iranian-backed groups about 78 times since the beginning of 2021, according to Army General Michael Kurilla, who oversees the American deployment in the Middle East as the head of Central Command.
The White House underscored that the incidents would not prompt the nearly eight-year US deployment to Syria, where American troops and local Kurdish-led partners are battling the remnants of Islamic State terror group.
Washington has, however, formally prioritized in its national security policies regarding Russia, Ukraine and the Asia-Pacific above the Middle East after two decades of US intervention in the region during its global war against terrorism – resulting in an overall decline in U.S. military personnel and assets in the Middle East.
In related developments, the IRGC held a funeral procession for two officers who were killed in an aerial strike near Damascus attributed to Israel.
IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami underscored that his paramilitary force “will definitely take revenge.”
Crowds chanted “Death to Israel and Death to America” during the procession.
“Israel will never reach its goal, and it’s only causing its own demise with these actions,” stated one participant, identified as Rahhmani. Another named Sadeghi demanded the IRGC exact revenge against Israel, saying, “the action must be in such a way that the enemy does not find any leverage (against Iran), while also adequately confronting the enemy with full force.”
Israel has for years been carrying out attacks against Iran-linked targets in Syria, where the Ayatollah regime’s influence has grown since it began supporting President Bashar al-Assad in his country’s civil war that began in 2011. Iranian proxies, led by Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror organization, now control large areas of eastern, southern and northern Syria and in several suburbs around the capital.
Western intelligence officials say the Islamic Republic has stepped up aerial weapons shipments to its terrorist proxies, including the Hezbollah terror organization, in attempts to evade IDF strikes on overland ground convoys. Strikes on Syrian airports and air bases have intensified in recent months.
Although officials rarely acknowledge responsibility for specific operations, Israel has acknowledged mounting hundreds of attacks on Iranian-linked targets in Syria – where the Islamic Republic’s forces and proxy have become entrenched in deployments aimed at attacking the Jewish State for almost a decade. Research centers for weapons development and munitions depots operated by IRGC have particularly been in the IDF’s crosshairs.