As war rages on between Israeli and Hamas fighters in the Middle East, there are increasing concerns that the conflict could spill over into neighboring countries.
Sources tell NBC News and the Washington Post that at least 24 American troops were injured last week in a series of drone attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, Politico reports that at least 19 of those hurt sustained traumatic brain injuries.
The Pentagon confirmed the strikes last week, but the Biden administration has, for days, withheld the total number of U.S. casualties.
Twenty troops were injured on an Oct. 18 attack when at least two drones targeted the al-Tanf military base in southern Syria, according to U.S. Central Command. It added that one of the drones was shot down.
Meanwhile, on the same day, another four U.S. military personnel sustained minor injuries when two drone attacks targeted the al-Asad military base in western Iraq, CENTCOM said. All those hurt have since returned to duty.
Then in a third incident that day, a U.S. military contractor died after suffering a heart attack when an early warning system triggered another shelter-in-place order, but it did not occur during any of the drone attacks.
"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," CENTCOM said in a statement.
U.S. forces in the Middle East have been told to remain on high alert since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out on Oct. 7. Military officials have also been paying close attention to Hezbollah — a powerful Shiite Muslim political party and Iranian-backed militant group stationed in Lebanon that is also a close ally to Hamas.
Last week, the head of the Kataib Hezbollah militia issued a statement threatening more attacks on American facilities over U.S. support for Israel.
"Our missiles, drones, and special forces are ready to direct qualitative strikes at the American enemy in its bases and disrupt its interests if it intervenes in this battle,"said Ahmad Abu Hussein al-Hamidawi. He also threatened strikes on Israeli targets.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken — who recently spent several days in the region — said the U.S. is ready to respond if American personnel continue to be targeted and "won't hesitate to take the appropriate action." Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin echoed that warning, saying officials are seeing a "significant escalation of attacks on our troops and our people."
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