Iran-Backed Drone Attack Kills Three U.S. Servicemembers in Jordan

Latest Developments

An Iran-backed drone attack killed three U.S. servicemembers and injured 25 others in Jordan on January 28. The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a U.S. official, that the overnight attack targeted Tower 22, a U.S. outpost near the Jordanian-Syrian border. These are the first deaths of U.S. servicemembers in the region from enemy fire since the Hamas massacre on October 7 prompting Israel’s response in Gaza. President Biden attributed the drone strike to “radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq.”

“The three American service members we lost were patriots in the highest sense,” the president said in a statement. “And their ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten by our nation. Together, we will keep the sacred obligation we bear to their families. We will strive to be worthy of their honor and valor. 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.”

Expert Analysis

“This is an important moment for the Biden administration in the Middle East. Should the president respond with overwhelming force to this attack on American servicemen by Iranian proxies, he can begin to establish deterrence with the Islamic Republic. Should he stand down or fail to send a strong enough message, the regime will view this as a green light to continue targeting American bases and soldiers across the region. The consequences could be rather severe. Until now, the Biden administration’s policy has been one of trying to negotiate with the regime, or even appease it. That has clearly failed. So now, we have arrived at a fork in road. All eyes are on the president.” — Jonathan Schanzer, FDD Senior Vice President for Research

“It was only a matter of time. To date there have been almost 160 attacks on U.S. positions in Iraq and Syria since October 7. While no U.S. servicepersons died until this most recent strike, the Biden administration’s earlier policy of pulled punches toward Iran and its threat network may have emboldened these militias to press ahead and target U.S. forces in other theaters. Jordan sits at a critical juncture in the Middle East, with Iran-backed militias to its north in Syria and east in Iraq, as well as Israel to its west.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

“This tragic event is the direct consequence of the Biden administration’s insufficient response to nearly 160 missile, rocket, and drone attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria over the past three months. Now, the administration can only restore deterrence and stability through a persistent, weeks-long strike campaign that places every Iranian proxy group and any forward-deployed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces at risk.” — RADM (Ret.) Mark Montgomery, FDD Senior Fellow and Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation

U.S. Rarely Responds to Attacks

Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria began attacking U.S. forces in the region in mid-October as retaliation for U.S. support of Israel in its war against Hamas. Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen have also repeatedly attacked shipping in the Red Sea. Yet fearing an escalation, America has responded only a handful of times with limited airstrikes.

On January 20, Iranian-backed militants launched ballistic missiles and rockets at al-Asad Airbase in Iraq, wounding multiple servicemembers. In response, U.S. forces carried out airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah on January 24. The limited strikes were apparently insufficient to deter Iran-backed forces from further attacks against U.S. servicemembers.

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