Attacks on US troops in Middle East spike amid military buildup

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Attacks on American troops dramatically ramped up over the weekend, the Pentagon said Monday, as the U.S. military sent ships and a submarine into the region.

U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Syria have been attacked by rockets and drones 38 times since Oct. 17, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said Monday, an increase from 31 on Friday afternoon. Forty-six service members in total have now reported injuries from the attacks, which he called “harassing,” he said.

Ryder did not specify the source of the attacks, but the Pentagon has recently blamed similar events on Iran-backed proxies.

Sunday was a particularly violent day, with five rocket and one-way drone attacks near Al-Asad Airbase, Iraq, and in two locations in Syria, according to a Defense Department official, who was granted anonymity to give details on a sensitive topic.

The U.S. military was able to thwart most of the attacks, the official said, adding that the majority of missiles and drones failed to reach their targets.

The increase in attacks came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the region, including an unannounced trip to Iraq on Sunday. During the stop, Blinken received a briefing on threats to American troops in the region, and called the attacks “unacceptable.”

Blinken also met with leaders in Israel, Jordan and Turkey, and stopped in the West Bank, in a whirlwind trip aimed at cooling tensions in the region.

Also this weekend, the Pentagon blitzed the air waves with announcements of new force movements. The Navy posted photos and videos of the USS Gerald R. Ford and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike groups exercising together with two Italian frigates in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. On Saturday, U.S. Central Command posted photosof the Eisenhower group arriving in the Middle East, and announced the deployment of a bomber task force over the region as well.

Then Sunday, the Defense Department took the rare step of announcing it had deployed an Ohio-class guided-missile submarine to the region.

The movements are designed to “further support our deterrence efforts in the region,” Ryder said Monday.

All of the 46 service members who sustained injuries were hurt during attacks that occurred prior to the U.S. retaliatory airstrikes on Oct. 26, said Ryder, noting that many of the troops reported injuries in the days and weeks after the initial attacks. The injuries were sustained primarily in attacks on Al Asad in Iraq and the Al Tanf garrison in Syria on Oct. 17 and 18; one additional service member was wounded in an incident in Erbil, Iraq, on Oct. 26.

“Reporting data is highly dependent on self-reporting when injuries are not visually evident to medical personnel providing care directly following an incident,” Ryder said of the fluctuating numbers.

Twenty-four service members were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, Ryder said. Two of those were initially returned to duty, but have now been transported to Germany to receive further treatment “out of an abundance of caution,” he said. They are in stable condition, he added.

The additional injuries included headaches, perforated eardrums, tinnitus, rolled ankles and more, he said.

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