Iranian targets hit by US Central Command airstrikes after the nuclear submarine USS Florida arrived in the Persian Gulf
The United States, for the second time in recent weeks, carried out strikes on Wednesday against a facility in eastern Syria that the Pentagon said was used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups.
As tensions soar over the Israel-Hamas conflict, U.S. and coalition troops have been attacked at least 40 times in Iraq and Syria by Iran-backed forces since the start of October. Forty-five U.S. troops have suffered traumatic brain injuries or minor wounds.
In a statement, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the strikes were conducted by two U.S. F-15 fighters and were in response to the recent attacks against U.S. forces.
Austin said the attacks against U.S. troops must stop.
“If attacks by Iran’s proxies against U.S. forces continue, we will not hesitate to take further necessary measures to protect our people,” Austin added.
There is growing concern that the Israel-Hamas conflict could spread through the Middle East and turn U.S. troops at isolated bases into targets.
The United States has sent warships and fighter aircraft to the region since the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted on Oct. 7, including two aircraft carriers, to try to deter Iran and Iran-backed groups. The number of troops added to the region is in the thousands.
The US Navy announced on Monday that one of its nuclear-powered Ohio-class submarines had arrived at the Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility, which encompasses the Middle East.
According to Bloomberg, the boat in question is the USS Florida, which can carry up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles or as many as 66 Navy SEAL special ops forces for clandestine operations.
Four Ohio-class subs were converted to be armed with cruise missiles rather than intercontinental ballistic missiles, with two based on each US coast. The news outlet said the deployment was meant as “a show of force” to Iran, citing unnamed US defense officials.
The CENCOM announcement included a photo of a submarine apparently heading towards the Al Salam Bridge, which crosses the Suez Canal. It’s extremely rare for the Pentagon to report the deployments of nuclear-propelled submarines, unless they make a port call.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) besieged the Palestinian enclave shortly after last month’s deadly Hamas attack, which left over 1,000 dead and hundreds more taken hostage. Jerusalem has declared the obliteration of the organisation responsible as an objective of existential importance.
Critics say the response is disproportionate, pointing to the high civilian death toll from the IDF airstrikes. Gaza officials have claimed that these have taken the lives of over 10,000 people in the enclave.
There are concerns that other regional players, including the Lebanese militant movement Hezbollah and Iran, may enter the conflict in a major way. The US leadership has pledged to stand with Israel, including by providing additional military aid for its Gaza campaign.
The USS Florida was deployed for the first time in combat in 2011, when it bombarded Libya as part of the NATO operation to back rebel forces seeking to topple Muammar Gaddafi. The North African nation remains politically fractured and economically devastated more than a decade after the intervention.