Three U.S. service members were killed and at least 34 troops were injured in an overnight attack at a base in Jordan on Jan. 28, the U.S. said. It marked the first U.S. troops killed in the region by enemy action since the Israel-Hamas war began in October and Iran-backed groups began launching attacks against the U.S.
“While we are still gathering the facts of this attack, we know it was carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq,” President Joe Biden said in a Jan. 28 statement.
The troops were killed at Tower 22 in northeastern Jordan, a small outpost close to the border with Syria that houses Air Force and Army personnel. U.S. Central Command said in a statement the attack was carried out by a one-way attack drone that “impacted on a base.”
Such groups have attacked U.S. troops at least 158 times since Oct. 17, using drones, rockets, and ballistic missiles, according to U.S. officials. While most have been unsuccessful, a U.S. contractor died of a heart attack while sheltering in place in one instance, and a U.S. service member was critically wounded in another.
Tower 22 is located near Al Tanf Garrison in southeastern Syria, where the U.S. works with local partners to combat the Islamic State group. Al Tanf has drawn frequent attacks in recent months, but the Jan. 28 attack on Tower 22 was the first known attack on U.S. forces in Jordan. Tower 22 provides logistics and support for Al Tanf. CENTCOM initially said 25 troops were injured, but within hours, that number had risen to more than 34 wounded. Eight troops were transported out of Jordan for a higher level of medical attention and CENTCOM indicated the number of injured troops may increase.
“There are approximately 350 U.S. Army and Air Force personnel deployed to the base, conducting a number of key support functions, including support to the coalition for the lasting defeat of ISIS,” CENTCOM said in a statement issued later in the day.
The U.S. is seeking to avoid widening the conflict in the region, while at the same time preventing attacks against U.S. troops there. Iranian-backed groups in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen have all launched attacks of one sort or another. The Houthis, who control most of Yemen, have also attacked international shipping, leading to a steady stream of U.S. and allied strikes against Houthi military targets.
“The goal is to deter them and we don’t want to go down a path of greater escalation that drives to a much broader conflict within the region,” Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. said on ABC’s This Week in previously recorded interview that aired Jan. 28.
The U.S. has conducted retaliatory and self-defense airstrikes against the Iranian-backed militias that have attacked American and coalition personnel in the region as recently as last week when it struck Kataib Hezbollah, an Iraqi group responsible for many of the attacks on American troops, according to the U.S. military. The attack came as talks are set to begin over a final withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq.
“These service members embodied the very best of our nation: Unwavering in their bravery. Unflinching in their duty. Unbending in their commitment to our country—risking their own safety for the safety of their fellow Americans, and our allies and partners with whom we stand in the fight against terrorism,” Biden said. “It is a fight we will not cease.”
CENTCOM said the identities of the service members would be withheld until 24 hours after their next of kin have been notified.
“The President and I will not tolerate attacks on American forces, and we will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our troops, and our interests,” Austin said.
The president was briefed on the attack the morning of Jan. 28 by Austin, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, White House officials said. Biden convened another meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, CIA Director Bill Burns, Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Austin, Brown, Finer, and Sullivan in the afternoon.
“The three American service members we lost were patriots in the highest sense,” Biden said. “We will carry on their commitment to fight terrorism. And have no doubt—we will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner our choosing. “
“We shall respond,” Biden added at an event in South Carolina.