Today's D Brief: Drone attack kills US contractor in Syria; US strikes kill 11 in Syria; New Nordic air force; Starlink 'paints a target' on Ukrainians; And a bit more.

A drone attack killed one American contractor and wounded five United States service members, as well as another U.S. contractor working inside a maintenance facility at a military outpost near the northeastern Syria city of Hasakah on Thursday afternoon. The surviving contractor and three of the wounded troops were medically evacuated to Iraq for treatment; the two other service members were treated on the scene, and did not require evacuation, according to U.S. defense officials. 

“The intelligence community assess[ed] the [drone] to be of Iranian origin,” the U.S. military said in a statement Thursday evening. 

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin ordered precision airstrikes in retaliation for the drone attack, “as well as a series of recent attacks against Coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with [Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps],” Austin said in the statement. At least three targets were hit as part of the U.S. response, which used F-15E fighter jets to strike “a munition warehouse, a control building and an intelligence-collection site,” according to the New York Times

The U.S. strikes reportedly killed at least 11 people, including six in Syria's Deir Ezzor city, three others in the desert near Al-Bokamal, and two others south of Al-Mayadeen, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Those strikes also “left several militiamen injured, some seriously, amid unconfirmed reports of more fatalities,” SOHR said. Other “Iranian-backed” militiamen tried to attack an oil field near Deir Ezzor in response for the U.S. strikes, “but the rocket missed its goal and hit a civilian house” east of the city, according to SOHR. 

U.S. forces in Syria were also targeted in a less consequential indirect fire attack Friday; those often follow U.S. strikes in the region, ABC News reported. Fortunately, no one was injured in that attack. 

“We are postured for scalable options in the face of any additional Iranian attacks,” America’s top Middle East military official, Army Gen. Michael Kurilla, said in a statement from his headquarters at the Tampa-based Central Command. 

Kurilla also addressed the seemingly diversifying regional threat from Iran earlier Thursday during a posture hearing on Capitol Hill. “The Iran of today is exponentially more militarily capable than it was even five years ago,” Kurilla told lawmakers. “It has the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East,” and “the largest and most capable [drone] force,” he said.

“Iran-backed militias have attacked U.S. troops in Syria 78 times since January 2021,” Middle East scholar Charles Lister tweeted after Thursday’s attack. “Iran’s hostility is a constant challenge in northeastern Syria, [and] one that CENTCOM is monitoring 24/7,” said Lister, who recently returned from a trip to the region. 

“The administration should waste no time making sure every militia behind the reported 78 rocket or drone attacks on U.S. positions since 2021 are also subject to terrorism sanctions,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “There should be no daylight between militias that are struck versus sanctioned,” he added. 

Reminder: The U.S. has nearly 900 troops inside Syria with the aim of stopping a resurgence of the Islamic State terrorist group. “Our troops remain in Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS, which benefits the security and stability of not only Syria, but the entire region,” Kurilla said in his post-attack statement Thursday. 

U.S.-backed forces have conducted more than 300 operations against ISIS just since January, Kurilla told the House Armed Services Committee. Those U.S. and U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are also helping watch over an estimated 10,000 fighters detained in 26 prisons spread across the region. “If we were to leave Syria,” Kurilla predicted to House lawmakers Thursday morning, “ISIS would return within one to two years.” 

From Defense One

Lawmakers Blast TikTok CEO Over Data Privacy // Lauren C. Williams: At a House hearing, legislators took turns grilling Shou Chew about securing Americans’ data on the popular video-sharing app.

Using Starlink Paints a Target on Ukrainian Troops // Sam Skove: Units scramble for solutions as Russia learns to locate and jam the vital comsat links.

F-35 Sales Rise as Russian Invasion Grinds On // Audrey Decker: Air Force general says recent deals show how NATO allies are stepping up as the U.S. focuses on China.

This Ugly Dispute Over Amphibious Warships Didn’t Have to Happen  // Brent D. Sadler: The Pentagon’s civilian leaders must spell out what they need to deter China.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to this newsletter, you can do that here. On this day in 2003, and six days into the U.S.-led Iraq invasion, dictator Saddam Hussein said “The U.S. and the British are the enemies of humanity and God,” and promised his countrymen “victory is near.” In mid-December of that same year, Hussein was detained after he was found hiding in a “spider hole” near Tikrit. Three years later, he was hanged and died at the age of 69.

With an eye on Russia, four Nordic nations are reportedly joining their air forces into one joint element, according to a recent announcement from the air chiefs of NATO members Denmark and Norway—as well as prospective alliance members Sweden and Finland.
The new joint force is expected to yield “around 250 modern combat aircraft,” bringing it “roughly on a par with European superpowers such as France and Great Britain,” Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten, reported Thursday.
New: Slovakia says four of its MiG-29 jets are now in Ukraine’s hands. Defense officials reminded us Thursday that 13 MiGs are intended for Ukraine over the coming weeks, “but for operational reasons, the department will not provide any further details.”
Developing: Russia’s Ukraine invasion has bogged down Moscow’s weapons deliveries to clients like India, New Delhi’s air force said Thursday. It’s unclear precisely which systems are most affected; however, “The biggest ongoing delivery is the S-400 Triumf air defense system units India bought in 2018 for $5.4 billion,” Reuters reported. “Three of these systems have been delivered and two more are awaited,” the wire service added.
Extended viewing: The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville posted a longer version of the video report we highlighted in Thursday’s newsletter, featuring a look at the Ukrainian trenches located a mere 700 meters from Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. It’s well worth the look over on Twitter, here.
Related reading: 

And lastly: Defense One’s State of Defense series wraps up next week with two must-watch events: State of the Space Force on Wednesday and State of the Joint Force on Friday. The latter will feature an interview with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley; the former includes an interview with Chief of Space Operations Chance Saltzman and an interview with Space Force’s chief operations officer, Lt. Gen. Deanna Burt. Register now to watch both virtual events.

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll be back at it again on Monday!