Officials said the airstrikes were ordered by President Joe Biden and conducted in Deir ez-Zor, a strategic province that borders Iraq and contains oil fields.
The airstrikes were necessary in order to “defend and protect U.S. forces from attacks like the ones on August 15 against U.S. personnel by Iran-backed groups,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
That attack involved multiple unidentified drones allegedly launched by Iranian-backed militias to target the al-Tanf Garrison, which is situated far in southern Syria near the three-way border with Jordan and Iraq and is used by U.S. forces. At the time, U.S. Central Command said the assault had caused “zero casualties and no damage.”
“The U.S. strikes targeted infrastructure facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” U.S. Central Command said on Aug. 23.
“The United States took proportionate, deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize the risk of casualties,” the statement continues. “The President gave the direction for these strikes pursuant to his Article II authority to protect and defend U.S. personnel by disrupting or deterring attacks by Iran-backed groups.”
U.S. Central Command didn’t indicate if there were any casualties from the airstrikes.
‘Protect and Defend Our People’
The statement added that the United States “does not seek conflict, but will continue to take necessary measures to protect and defend our people” and that U.S. forces “remain in Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS.”
Col. Joe Buccino, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, told CNN that U.S. forces had targeted a group of bunkers in the Aug. 23 airstrike that are used to store ammunition and also for logistics support by Iranian-backed groups in Syria.
Buccino said U.S. forces had spent hundreds of hours conducting extensive monitoring and surveillance of 13 bunkers that are in the same complex in eastern Syria and the strike had intended to hit 11 of them, as it was unclear if there were people inside the other two bunkers, he said.
Eventually, military forces carried out strikes on nine of the bunkers as there was a small group of people nearby, he said, noting that forces had aimed to destroy the bunkers and that there were no deaths reported, according to an initial assessment of the strike.
Deir ez-Zor is controlled by Iran-backed militia groups and Syrian forces, both of which have been targeted by Israeli warplanes in previous strikes.
U.S. forces first deployed to Syria in 2015 during the Obama administration’s campaign against ISIS, backing allied forces, a Kurdish-led group called the Syrian Democratic Forces, in its fight against the terror group. There are about 900 U.S. troops in Syria, with the majority of them located in the east.
The airstrikes come as Washington said it was studying a draft agreement proposed by the European Union that would bring back the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
While the United States withdrew from the agreement under President Donald Trump, Biden hopes to get Iran back into the deal in an effort to stop the country from bolstering its nuclear program.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.