6 US service members suffer traumatic brain injuries in Syria attack

WASHINGTON — Six U.S. service members suffered traumatic brain injuries in separate attacks by Iran-backed militias in Syria last week, the Pentagon said Thursday.

The Pentagon initially said seven Americans were wounded and one American contractor was killed in the attacks. But additional injuries were discovered during routine screening in recent days, Brig. Pentagon spokesman General Patrick S. Ryder told reporters Thursday.

In recent years, the Pentagon has sought to better understand the consequences for service members of traumatic brain injuries, which sometimes cause long-term physical or mental disabilities.

The diagnosis followed two attacks. First, a self-destructive drone strike on March 23 hit a coalition base in northeastern Syria, killing a civilian contractor who was an auto mechanic.

Two US F-15E fighter jets retaliated later in the day by conducting airstrikes against militant bases linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful branch of Iran’s military. General Ryder said eight militants were killed in the attack.

The next day, pro-Iranian militias launched rocket and drone attacks that injured another American. US warplanes were poised to launch a second round of retaliatory strikes later on Friday, but a senior US official said the White House had decided to hold off.

The United States has more than 900 troops and hundreds of contractors in Syria working with Kurdish fighters to prevent the resurgence of Islamic State, which was defeated as a caliphate in 2019 after a five-year campaign of violence across Iraq and Syria. .

As the Biden administration’s focus shifts to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a future conflict with China, the military mission against the Islamic State in Syria has become a burning issue again. The mission gained more attention only when Iranian-backed militias or Islamic State fighters attacked American troops rotating in and out of a few bases there.

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For the Biden administration, it’s a balancing act. President Biden has made it clear that he has no desire to continue the so-called perpetual wars that have been part of the national psyche for the first 20 years of this century. He withdrew U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2021 and pulled them out of Ukraine, while instructing Pentagon planners to focus on Asia and the potential for great power conflicts with Russia and China.

Long-running conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the administration maintains, aside from Syria, where Iranian-backed militias have carried out dozens of attacks in the past year on or near bases where U.S. troops are stationed.

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