U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Syria have been attacked by rockets and drones 41 times since the wave began on Oct. 17, with 46 service members having reported injuries from the attacks. Twenty-four of those service members were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on Monday. Two of those were transported to Germany to receive further treatment.
“The United States is fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities,” Austin continued. “We urge against any escalation. U.S. personnel will continue to conduct counter-ISIS missions in Iraq and Syria,” he said, referring to the Islamic State.
Also in the region, the Houthi-led government in Yemen shot down a U.S. MQ-9 surveillance drone flying in international airspace over the Red Sea on Wednesday. The attack follows an episode last month in which a U.S. destroyer shot down several ballistic missiles and drones launched by the Iranian-backed group toward Israel.
The uptick in violence throughout the region comes after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel that killed 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians.
The ensuing Israeli response — which has included a massive air barrage and a ground invasion of Gaza that Israel says is targeting Hamas leadership and weapons, as well as command-and-control sites — has roiled the region as the civilian death toll spirals.
The Biden administration has been criticized for continuing to supply Israel with precision-guided munitions to continue the fight, but U.S. and Israeli officials have pointed out that Hamas purposefully places these sites amid civilian infrastructure in the densely packed Gaza Strip.
“In this war, protecting and supporting civilians is difficult for a range of reasons,” Dana Stroul, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary for the Middle East, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
Gaza is not only densely populated, Stroul said, but “Hamas is using civilians as human shields, and because Hamas placed rockets and weapons in civilian areas while digging terror tunnels underneath civilian infrastructure and protected sites, like schools and hospitals.”
Stroul added that “we make clear to Israel every day that efforts to mitigate and respond to civilian harm are both a moral and strategic imperative.”