President Joe Biden said Sunday that the United States will “respond” after three American soldiers were killed and dozens more injured in an overnight drone strike in northeastern Jordan, near the Syrian border. Biden blamed Iran-backed militias for the first U.S. deaths after months of strikes by such groups against U.S. forces across the Middle East since the Israel-Hamas conflict began.
Biden, who was traveling in South Carolina, called for a moment of silence during an appearance at a Baptist church banquet hall.
“We had a tough day last night in the Middle East. We lost three brave souls in an attack on one of our bases,” he said. After the moment of silence, Biden added: “and we will respond.”
Faced with the growing risk of military escalation in the region, U.S. officials were working to conclusively identify the precise group responsible for the attack, but they believed that one of several Iranian-backed groups was behind this attack.
Biden said in a written statement that the United States “will hold all those responsible to account when and how we choose.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “we will take whatever action is necessary to defend the United States, our troops, and our interests.”
Iran-backed fighters in eastern Syria have begun evacuating their posts, fearing U.S. airstrikes, according to Omar Abu Layla, a Europe-based activist who runs the Deir Ezzor 24 news outlet. He told the Associated Press that these areas are the strongholds of Mayadeen and Boukamal.
U.S. Central Command said at least 34 troops were injured by the one-way attack drone, eight of whom left Jordan for follow-up care. He described all eight as being in stable condition.
The large drone struck a logistics support base in Jordan known as Tower 22. It is located along the Syrian border and is widely used by troops involved in the advise and assist mission of Jordanian forces.
Central Command said about 350 U.S. Army and Air Force personnel were deployed to the base. All three people killed and most of those injured were Army soldiers, according to several U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details that have not yet been made public.
The small facility, which Jordan does not publicly disclose, includes U.S. engineering, aviation, logistics and security troops. Austin said the troops were deployed there “to work toward the lasting defeat of ISIS.” Three officials said the drone struck near troop dormitories, which they said explained the high number of casualties.
The U.S. al-Tanf military base in Syria is just 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Tower 22. The Jordanian facility provides a critical logistics hub for U.S. forces in Syria, including those of al-Tanf. -Tanf, which is located near the border. of Iraq, Syria and Jordan intersect.
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In a statement released by the official Jordanian news agency Petra, the country “condemned the terrorist attack” which targeted American troops. That report described the drone strike as targeting “an outpost on the border with Syria” and claimed it did not injure any Jordanian soldiers.
“Jordan will continue to fight terrorism and the trafficking of drugs and weapons across the Syrian border into Jordan, and will confront with firmness and determination anyone who attempts to attack the security of the kingdom,” said the statement attributed to Muhannad Mubaidin, government spokesperson. , said.
US troops have long used Jordan, a kingdom bordering Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territories in the West Bank, Saudi Arabia and Syria, as a base. Around 3,000 US troops are typically stationed in Jordan.
Since the start of the Gaza war on October 7, Iran-backed militias have struck U.S. military installations in Iraq more than 60 times and Syria more than 90 times, with a combination of drones, rockets, mortars and ballistic missiles. Sunday’s attack was the first targeting U.S. troops in Jordan during Israel’s war with Hamas and the first to result in the loss of American lives. Scores of American personnel were injured, including some with head injuries, during the attacks.
The militias said their strikes were retaliation for Washington’s support for Israel in the Gaza war and aimed to push American forces out of the region.
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On Monday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry rejected the US accusation that Tehran was behind the drone attack,” according to the official IRNA news agency. Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has no role in the resistance groups’ decisions on how they support the Palestinian nation or defend their people.”
Iran, Kanaani said, is closely monitoring developments in the region and stressed that “responsibility for the consequences of provocative accusations against Iran will fall on those who raise baseless allegations.”
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In recent months, the United States has struck targets in Iraq, Syria and Yemen to respond to attacks on U.S. forces in the region and to deter Iranian-backed Houthi rebels from continuing to threaten commercial shipping in the Red Sea.
“I am confident that the Biden administration will respond in a deliberate and proportional manner,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-I., who leads the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Republicans in Congress have said the administration’s approach has failed to deter U.S. adversaries in the region.
“We need a major reset of our Middle East policy to protect our national security interests,” said Republican Michael McCaul of Texas, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., went further, urging the administration “to strike significant targets in Iran, not only in retaliation for the deaths of our forces, but also as a deterrent against future aggression.” The only thing the Iranian regime understands is force.”
Biden, who was in Columbia, South Carolina, on Sunday, was briefed in the morning by Austin, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and principal deputy national security adviser Jon Finer, Biden’s press secretary said. the White House, Karine Jean-Pierre. In the afternoon, he met virtually with Vice President Kamala Harris and her national security team to provide an update.
The president, in the written statement, called it a “despicable and completely unjust attack” and said the military “risked their own safety for that of their fellow Americans, and our allies and partners with whom we stand in conflict.” fight against terrorism. This is a fight that we will not stop.
Syria is still in the midst of a civil war and has long been a launching pad for Iranian-backed forces, including the Lebanese militia Hezbollah. Iraq also has several Shiite militias supported by Iran.
Jordan, a staunch Western ally and a crucial power in Jerusalem for its surveillance of holy sites, is suspected of launching airstrikes in Syria to disrupt drug traffickers, including one that killed nine people at first of the month.
An umbrella group of Iran-backed factions, known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, earlier claimed to have launched explosive drone attacks targeting three areas in Syria, as well as an area inside the “Occupied Palestine”. The group has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks on bases housing US troops in Iraq and Syria since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.
Three officials from Iran-backed militias in Iraq, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with journalists, said the drone attack on the base in Jordan had been launched by one of the Iraqi groups. No faction has yet officially claimed responsibility.
Officials said the U.S. military was not tracking any further attacks on its forces in the region on Sunday.
Baldor reported from Washington. Associated Press editors Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran; Bassem Mroue and Abby Sewell in Beirut; Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, and Jon Gambrell in Jerusalem contributed to this report.