U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday vowed the U.S. would take “all necessary actions” to defend its troops after a deadly drone attack in Jordan by Iran-backed militants, even as President Joe Biden’s administration stressed it was not seeking a war with Iran.
Biden administration blames Iran-backed militants for drone attack that wounded more than 40 othersThomson Reuters
· Posted: Jan 29, 2024 7:58 PM EST | Last Updated: January 30
From left, Spc. Kennedy Sanders, Sgt. William Jerome Rivers and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, all from the state of Georgia, were identified as the three U.S. Army Reserve soldiers killed Sunday by a drone strike on their base in Jordan, near the Syrian border. (Shawn Sanders/U.S. Army/The Associated Press)U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin vowed on Monday that the United States would take “all necessary actions” to defend its troops after a deadly drone attack in Jordan by Iran-backed militants, even as President Joe Biden’s administration stressed it was not seeking a war with Iran.
The attack on Sunday killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded more than 40 troops. It was the first deadly strike against U.S. troops since the Israel-Hamas war erupted in October and marks a major escalation in tensions that have engulfed the Middle East.
“Let me start with my outrage and sorrow [for] the deaths of three brave U.S. troops in Jordan and for the other troops who were wounded,” Austin said at the Pentagon.
“The president and I will not tolerate attacks on U.S. forces, and we will take all necessary actions to defend the U.S. and our troops,” Austin added at the start of meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“As the president said yesterday, we will respond, and that response could be multi-levelled, come in stages and be sustained over time,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
Other officials across the Biden administration said they did not want the situation to escalate.
“We are not seeking a conflict with the regime in the military way,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said, adding that Biden was working his way through response options.
The Pentagon suggested Iran didn’t want a war either.
“We certainly don’t seek a war, and frankly we don’t see Iran wanting to seek a war with the United States,” Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh told reporters.
She said the weekend attacks had the “footprints” of the Kataib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), an Iran-aligned armed group, but the Pentagon had not yet made a final assessment.
WATCH | Blinken warns parties trying to take advantage of Middle East turmoil:
U.S. response could be ‘multi-level,’ ‘sustained’ following deaths in JordanFollowing the deaths of three U.S. service members from a drone attack in Jordan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that any party trying to take advantage of turmoil in the Middle East to attack U.S. troops could face a ‘multi-level’ response that could ‘come in stages and be sustained over time.’
Incoming drone missedThe U.S. is trying to determine exactly why the nearly 350 troops at the base in Jordan, known as Tower 22, were unable to stop the drone.
Two officials said a U.S. drone was approaching the base around the same time the attack drone was incoming.
One of the officials said the attack drone was also flying low, factors that may have contributed to it being missed by base defences.
The U.S. military released the names of the victims, the youngest of which was a 23-year-old U.S. Army Reserve specialist, Breonna Alexsondria Moffett.
This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows a military base known as Tower 22 in northeastern Jordan, on Oct. 12, 2023. President Joe Biden blamed Iran-backed militia groups for the first U.S. fatalities after months of strikes against American forces across the Middle East amid the Israel-Hamas war. (The Associated Press via Planet Labs PBC)U.S. troops have been attacked more than 160 times in Iraq, Syria and Jordan since Oct.7, and warships have been attacked in the Red Sea as well.
Yemen’s Houthi fighters, known officially as Ansar Allah, have been firing drones and missiles at them on the Red Sea.
The attacks are piling political pressure on Biden to deal a blow directly against Iran, a step he has been reluctant to take out of fear of igniting a broader war.
Biden met with Austin and other members of his national security team in the White House Situation Room on Monday morning to discuss the latest developments regarding the attack, the White House said.
The president’s options could include targeting Iranian forces outside or inside Iran and opting for a more cautious retaliatory attack solely against the Iran-backed militants responsible, experts say.
“Iran continues to destabilize the region. This includes backing terrorists who attack our ships in the Red Sea,” NATO’s Stoltenberg said.
The attack, and any potential U.S. response, is likely to fan fears of wider conflict in the Middle East, where war broke out in Gaza after Hamas-led militants raided southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 civilians and Israeli soldiers, and taking about 250 people hostage, according to the Israeli government.
Israel’s subsequent assault on Gaza has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to the territory’s Health Ministry.
WATCH | Concerns of escalated conflict in Middle East after U.S. troops attacked:
Drone strike targets U.S. troops, risks wider conflict in Middle EastThree soldiers were killed in an overnight drone strike targeting U.S. troops near the Syrian border. President Joe Biden has vowed to retaliate, adding to fears of an escalated conflict in the Middle East.
The U.S. has already retaliated in Iraq, Syria and Yemen in response to previous attacks by Iran-backed groups.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday he was concerned about tensions in the Middle East and urged Iran to de-escalate.
Iran’s minister of intelligence said that regional armed groups aligned with Tehran respond to “American aggressors” at their own discretion.
Experts have cautioned that any strikes against Iranian forces inside Iran could force Tehran to respond forcefully, escalating the situation in a way that could drag the U.S. into a major Middle East war.