US launches 3rd strikes on Iran-linked groups amid attacks on American soldiers: Officials
The sites were a weapons storage facility and a command center in Syria.
American aircraft on Sunday struck a weapons storage facility and a command-and-control center used by Iran-linked militants in Syria in the latest round of retaliatory strikes amid continued attacks on U.S. troops in the Middle East, officials said.
"Within the last two hours, the U.S. has taken precision defensive strikes against two sites in Syria," one official told ABC News.
The operation was in response to what the Pentagon has called ongoing attacks, injuring dozens of American troops, by proxy fighters supported by Iran since the Israel-Hamas war began after Hamas' terror attack last month.
The U.S. military said the strikes are part of a larger strategy of deterrence intended to keep other groups from escalating conflict in the region, where tensions have been sharply inflamed by the fighting between Israel and Hamas.
"The president has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. 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 on Sunday.
The strikes were "intended to disrupt and degrade the freedom of action and capabilities" of the groups "directly responsible for attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria," Austin added Monday, speaking during a press conference in South Korea with counterpart Shin Won-sik.
"And we have said, and we will continue to say, that we will take all necessary measures to protect our troops, the safety of our troops, and our civilians. It is our utmost importance to the president of the United States and to me," Austin said.
Gen. Michael Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command, also issued a statement calling the strikes a "response" to "continued provocations by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and their affiliated groups 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 that was being used by Iran-backed militants responsible for the dozens of drone and rocket attacks against American troops in the region over the previous three weeks.
"We hold Iran accountable 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, sparking the war, Iran-backed militants began what has become a spate of near-daily aggression, U.S. officials have said.
The Iran-linked attackers "in all cases were taking shots at what they believed to be very large numbers of U.S. personnel with the intent of killing them," a senior military official said last week.
On Oct. 26, in the first strikes, U.S. fighter jets 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 let them," Austin said then. "If attacks by Iran's proxies against U.S. forces continue, we will not hesitate to take further necessary measures to protect our people."
ABC News' Lauren Minore contributed to this report.