Three U.S. soldiers were killed and 25 wounded Sunday in a drone strike in northeastern Jordan near the Syrian border, the U.S. military said.
US President Joe Biden blamed Iran-backed militias for the first US death in months of attacks on US forces in the Middle East by Iran-backed militias amid the war between Israel and Hamas.
Faced with a conflict that increases the risk of military escalation, US officials are still working to determine the exact group responsible for the attack, but it is assessed that the cause is one of several groups. backed by Iran.
Biden emphasized that the United States “will hold everyone accountable at a time and in a way that we choose.” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned that “we will take all necessary action to protect the United States, our troops, and our interests.”
Iran-backed fighters in eastern Syria have begun to evacuate their posts for fear of US airstrikes, according to Omar Abu Layla, a European-based activist who runs the Deir Ezzor 24 media outlet. He told The Associated Press that the areas were the Mayadeen and Boukamal forts.
According to a US official, the number of troops in the one-way attack drone has increased to at least 34. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the details that were not disclosed to the public, said a large drone hit the base, which two other American officials identified as a Jordanian installation known as Tower 22. It is located along the Syrian border and is used by most of the troops involved in an advise-and-assist mission for Jordanian forces.
According to a US official, the number of soldiers injured in the one-way drone attack has risen to 34. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not been made public, said that a large drone struck the base, which two other US officials identified as a Jordanian facility known as Tower 22. It is located along the Syrian border and is primarily used by troops involved in advising and assisting the mission of the Jordanian forces.
The small facility, which will not be disclosed to the Jordanian public, includes American engineering, aviation, logistics, and security troops.
The US military base at al-Tanf in Syria is just 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Tower 22. The Jordanian facility provides a critical logistics hub for US forces in Syria, including those in al-Tanf, which is near the intersection of the borders of Iraq, Syria, and Jordan.
Jordanian state television quoted Muhannad Mubaidin, a government spokesman, as insisting that the attack took place outside the kingdom, across the Syrian border. But US authorities insisted the attack took place in Jordan.
US troops have long used Jordan, a kingdom that borders Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian West Bank, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, as a base. The US Central Command said 25 service members were injured in the attack in addition to the three deaths.
About 3,000 American troops are generally stationed in Jordan.
Since Israel’s war against Hamas began on October 7 in the Gaza Strip, US military bases in Iraq and Syria have suffered drone and missile attacks. Sunday’s attack represented the first attack against American troops in Jordan during the war between Israel and Hamas and was the first to claim American lives. Some attacks seriously injured US military personnel, including some that caused traumatic brain injuries.
The militias said their attacks were in retaliation for Washington’s support of Israel in the Gaza war and also signaled their intention to expel US forces from the region.
In recent months, the United States has attacked targets in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen to respond to attacks against US forces in the region and to suppress the Iran-backed Houthi rebels from continuing to threaten commercial shipping in the Red Sea.
Biden was in Columbia, South Carolina, on Sunday morning when he was briefed on the attack by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and senior deputy national security adviser Jon Finer, he said. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. He is expected to meet again with his national security team later on Sunday.
Syria is still in the midst of a civil war and has long been a stronghold of Iranian-backed forces there, including the Lebanese militia Hezbollah. Iraq also has several Iranian-backed Shiite militias operating there.
Jordan, a staunch ally of the West and a key power in Jerusalem for its control of holy sites there, is suspected of launching bombings in Syria to disrupt drug-trafficking networks, including an attack that killed nine people earlier this month.
Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue and Abby Sewell in Beirut, Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, Jon Gambrell in Jerusalem, and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.