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US conducts strikes in Syria after indirect fire threatens troops

By Barbara Starr and Oren Liebermann, CNN

The US military conducted strikes in Syria after indirect fire posed what a US-led coalition official called “an imminent threat” to troops near Green Village, a base in the east of the country near the Iraqi border.

While the US is not officially confirming it conducted the strikes, a defense official with direct knowledge noted that only US forces in that area have weapons capable of carrying out these kinds of strikes.

Preliminary assessments have concluded the strikes destroyed the seven Katyusha rocket sites they were targeting.

“Indirect fire attacks pose a serious threat to innocent civilians because of their lack of discrimination,” the Operation Inherent Resolve official said in a statement.

Operation Inherent Resolve is the US-led coalition to counter ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Although there was no specific attribution for the indirect fire, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the US continues to see threats against US forces in the region from Iranian-backed militias.

“In just the last few days, there have been acts perpetrated by some of these groups that validate the consistent concerns that we’ve had over the safety and security of our people,” Kirby said at a news briefing Tuesday.

Earlier Tuesday, the US shot down two drones as they approached Ain al-Asad Air Base in Iraq, according to the Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office. It is the same base targeted by Iranian missiles two years ago after the US assassination of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Though officials have not said whether they believe these recent attacks are related to the killing of Soleimani, the two-year anniversary of his death was this past weekend.

Tensions are also high as sensitive negotiations continue in Vienna, Austria, on the future of the Iran nuclear deal.

US and coalition forces in the region have come under repeated attack from drones and indirect fire for months.

On Sunday, an area near Baghdad airport where US forces are located was the target of a failed attack.

In October, a “deliberate and coordinated” attack using multiple drones targeted US forces at the At-Tanf base in Syria near the borders with Iraq and Jordan.

The US maintains approximately 900 troops in Syria, largely split between At-Tanf and Green Village.

At the beginning of the year, US forces operating in Iraq transition from a military role to an advise and assist mission, helping the Iraqi government in its effort to root out and eliminate the last remnants of ISIS.

“We don’t stay at this mission … this new mission … with any illusions that our people are under any less threat by these militia groups,” Kirby said. “We’re going to stay focused on that threat as we stay focused on the mission at hand and make sure that we’re doing everything we can to protect our people.”

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