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Confusion Over Incoming Drones May Have Led to Deadly Attack in Jordan, US Military Says


FILE - This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows a military base known as Tower 22 in northeastern Jordan, Oct. 12, 2023.
FILE - This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows a military base known as Tower 22 in northeastern Jordan, Oct. 12, 2023.

The United States is considering options for how to make Iran and its proxy forces in Iraq and Syria pay for a deadly drone attack on a base in northeast Jordan, while also trying to determine just how the drone got by the base’s air defenses.

U.S. officials late Monday said that three Army reservists with the 718th Engineering Company out of Fort Moore, Georgia, died when the one-way attack drone slammed into their housing unit at Tower 22, a logistical base near the Syrian border involved in coordinating efforts to contain and degrade the Islamic State terror group.

A U.S. official, who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the preliminary findings, said the attack drone appeared to penetrate U.S. defense partially by luck, approaching the base at about the same time a U.S. drone was returning from a mission.

The initial confusion, the official said, appears to have caused enough of a delay to allow the drone to get through and hit the barracks in the early morning hours, at a time when many U.S. troops had yet to vacate the premises to start their assignments.

The presence of the U.S. drone returning to the base around the same time as the attack drone was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

In addition to the three deaths, the Pentagon said Monday that another 40 service members were injured, many suffering from cuts, bruises and traumatic brain injuries as a result of the impact and explosion.

Officials said the number of injuries could rise if additional U.S. troops start suffering ill effects as a result of the blast. Three of the most seriously injured troops were being transported to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a premier U.S. military medical facility in Germany, for follow-on care, officials said.

The Pentagon said it was taking steps to further secure U.S. bases in the region but put responsibility for the deadly strike on Iran and its proxies.

“We know this is an IRGC-backed militia," Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Monday, referring to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. “It has the footprints of Kataib Hezbollah,” one of the larger and more powerful of Iran’s Iraq-based proxies, she added.

Singh declined to say whether Tehran directly ordered the actual attack on Tower 22, but said that because of the Iranians' funding of the militias, “they do have their fingerprints on this.”

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group for Iranian-backed militias, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement Sunday, saying it was one of four attacks launched at U.S. forces.

Iran’s foreign ministry, in contrast, denied responsibility for the attack in Jordan. The official IRNA news agency quoted ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani as saying that the “Islamic Republic of Iran has no role in decisions by resistance groups on how they support the Palestinian nation or defend their people.”

Officials at both the Pentagon and the White House emphasized Monday that the U.S. was not seeking war with Iran. But they also signaled that the death of U.S. troops, in what is now one of at least 165 attacks by Iranian-backed groups on U.S. forces in the Middle East since mid-October, would not be tolerated.

“This attack was certainly escalatory,” Singh said. “We can't discount the fact that other attacks, whether it be Iraq or Syria, were not intended to kill our service members.”

FILE - National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Jan. 26, 2024.
FILE - National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Jan. 26, 2024.

Earlier, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, in an interview with CNN, warned that the U.S. was planning a “very consequential” response.

The comments came as U.S. President Joe Biden met in the White House Situation Room with his top national security officials to formulate a response.

Some Republican critics in Congress have called on the Democratic president for a direct hit on Iran, but other officials and experts caution that such a strike could quickly lead to a spread of warfare in the Mideast, even though the current situation is no longer tenable.

“Clearly the U.S. strategy, if it was starting three months ago, not to let regional tensions escalate, that strategy has failed,” said Bernard Hudson, former chief of counterterrorism at the CIA.

“There has been a strategic decision, certainly in Iran, to accelerate their actions against the United States,” Hudson told VOA.

The deaths in Sunday’s attack on the U.S. base in Jordan were the first from hostile fire since Iranian-backed militias began carrying out strikes on U.S. positions in what the militias have described as a show of solidarity with Palestinians following the start of the nearly four-month-long war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

While the United States has not engaged in the fighting in the narrow territory along the Mediterranean Sea, it has staunchly supported the Israeli effort and rebuffed demands from some world leaders for an immediate cease-fire.

U.S. officials, however, said they were close to reaching an agreement for a two-month halt in the fighting and the release of the remaining 100 or so hostages Hamas holds in Gaza. The initial Hamas attack on Israel in October killed about 1,200 people, while Gaza officials say Israel’s counteroffensive has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children.

VOA's Persian Service contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press and Reuters.