Three drones targeted U.S. troops stationed in Iraq on Wednesday, Pentagon officials said, with some American forces reportedly being evaluated for brain injuries suffered during the attacks.
Officials did not identify the group behind the attacks, but several Iran-backed militias have repeatedly targeted American troops stationed in Iraq and neighboring Syria over the past several years.
Iran and its proxies are under an intense spotlight right now amid the unfolding Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. Iran is Hamas’ chief benefactor. The group launched a terrorist assault on Israel Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,400 Israelis and at least 30 Americans.
Pentagon officials acknowledged that the incidents in Iraq came at a time of heightened tensions across the Middle East.
On Wednesday, “the U.S. military defended against three drones near U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq,” U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the region, said in a statement.
“In western Iraq, U.S. forces engaged two drones, destroying one and damaging the second, resulting in minor injuries to coalition forces. Separately in northern Iraq, U.S. forces engaged and destroyed a drone, resulting in no injuries or damage,” the statement said.
“In this moment of heightened alert, we are vigilantly monitoring the situation in Iraq and the region. U.S. forces will defend U.S. and coalition forces against any threat,” the CENTCOM statement said.
The statement did not explicitly say the injured troops were Americans or detail the injuries. But Reuters, citing unnamed U.S. officials, reported Wednesday that U.S. service members were being evaluated for traumatic brain injuries.
The U.S. has routinely clashed with Iran-backed militias in the region in recent years. In August 2022, for example, President Biden ordered a series of retaliatory airstrikes against Iran-affiliated militias in Syria, after those militias allegedly fired rockets at American bases in that country.
Those groups were widely believed to be Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, two Iraqi Shiite militias with direct ties with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iran and other Arab nations have seen significant public protests over the past 24 hours after an explosion at a hospital in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas said killed more than 500 people and blamed on Israeli airstrikes, a claim that many in the Arab world seemed to believe.
But Israel said the explosion was the result of a misfired Hamas rocket. President Biden, who visited Israel on Wednesday, said U.S. intelligence estimates back Israel‘s version of events.
The use of drones in Wednesday’s attacks on U.S. forces also suggests possible Iranian involvement. Iran has a robust drone program and even has supplied Russia with unmanned aircraft for use in its war in Ukraine.