Biden vows to retaliate after Iran-backed drone strike kills 3 US troops in Jordan

President Joe Biden said the US will hold Iran and its proxies accountable for the deadly attack on a US base near the Syrian border.

The attack

Three US service members were killed and 34 others were injured in a drone strike on a US base in northeast Jordan on Sunday, January 28, 2024. The attack occurred at Tower 22, a small installation used by US engineering, aviation, logistics and security troops to support the Jordanian forces in the fight against ISIS.

The drone was a one-way attack drone, meaning it was loaded with explosives and crashed into the target. The drone struck near the sleeping quarters of the US troops, causing the high number of casualties.

This was the first time US troops were killed by enemy fire in the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October 2023, which sparked a series of attacks by Iran-backed militias against US and allied forces in the region.

The response

President Biden blamed the attack on “radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq” and vowed to respond at a time and manner of his choosing.

“We had a tough day last night in the Middle East. We lost three brave souls in an attack on one of our bases,” Biden said during an appearance at a Baptist church’s banquet hall in South Carolina. “And we shall respond. Have no doubt – we will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner our choosing.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the US will take all necessary actions to defend the US, its troops and its interests. He also expressed his condolences to the families and friends of the fallen and the wounded.

Iran-backed fighters in eastern Syria began evacuating their posts, fearing US airstrikes, according to a local activist. He said the areas are the strongholds of Mayadeen and Boukamal, where several Iranian-backed militias are based.

The context

The drone strike in Jordan was the latest in a series of attacks by Iran-backed militias against US and allied forces in the Middle East, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Biden vows

The Israel-Hamas war began on October 7, 2023, when Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel with thousands of rockets, killing hundreds of civilians and triggering a massive Israeli retaliation. The war has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 2 million, according to the UN.

The US has been supporting Israel’s right to self-defense, while also calling for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. The US has also been trying to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which was abandoned by former President Donald Trump in 2018. Iran has been enriching uranium beyond the limits set by the deal, while also supporting various proxy groups in the region.

The Iran-backed militias have been targeting US and allied forces in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the Persian Gulf, in an apparent attempt to pressure the US to lift sanctions and withdraw from the region. The militias have also been clashing with ISIS, which still poses a threat in some areas .

The US has about 2,500 troops in Iraq, 900 in Syria and 3,000 in Jordan, mostly in advisory and training roles. The US also has a naval presence in the Persian Gulf and air bases in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates .

The implications

The drone strike in Jordan has raised the stakes in the already tense situation in the Middle East, and could trigger a wider escalation of violence.

The US faces a dilemma of how to respond to the attack, without jeopardizing the diplomatic efforts to end the Israel-Hamas war and revive the Iran nuclear deal. The US also has to balance its interests and alliances in the region, while avoiding further casualties and instability .

The attack also highlighted the growing threat of drones, which are cheap, easy to operate and hard to detect and intercept. Drones have been used by various actors in the region, including Iran, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen’s Houthi rebels and ISIS .

The attack also underscored the need for better coordination and cooperation among the US and its partners in the region, especially Jordan, which is a key ally and a moderate voice in the Arab world. Jordan has been hosting millions of refugees from Syria and Iraq, and has been facing economic and social challenges amid the pandemic .

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