As the Biden administration mulls over how and when to respond to Sunday's deadly attack on U.S. troops in Jordan by Iranian-backed militias, a U.S. patrol base in Syria was attacked, two U.S. official stold The War Zone.
"On the morning of Jan. 29, multiple rockets were launched at patrol base al-Shaddadi," one of the officials said. "There were no injuries or damage reported." The officials did not specify who carried out that attack.
Earlier on Monday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) attributed it to Iranian-backed militias.
“Iranian-backed groups fired at last one shell on the outskirts of Al-Tawasu’aeah neighborhood near Al-Shaddadi base in south Al-Hasakah countryside,” SOHR reported. “SOHR activists have reported hearing an explosion. However, no casualties have been reported.”
A U.S. defense official told The War Zone that the Defense Department is aware of the reports and working to confirm details.
Al-Shaddadi is a small outpost in eastern Syria located about 220 miles northeast of Tower 22, the U.S. logistics hub in northeast Jordan where three U.S. troops were killed and at least 34 injured by a drone strike that President Joe Biden blamed on Iranian-backed militias. It was the first fatal attack on U.S. troops in the region since the Oct. 7 surprise attack by Hamas that led to the ongoing war with Israel. It was also the first time a U.S. facility in Jordan was attacked since then.
"We will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner our choosing," U.S. president Joe Biden said Sunday. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin later echoed that sentiment in a statement of his own.
Biden met with members of his national security team in the White House Situation Room Monday morning "to discuss the latest developments regarding the attack on U.S. service members in northeastern Jordan, near the Syria border," according to a White House press pool report.
“I'm not going to telegraph any punches here from the podium,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday afternoon.
Biden, he said, is “weighing the options… as he said yesterday, we will respond. We'll do that on our schedule and our time. and we'll do it in a manner of the president's choosing as commander-in-chief. We will also do it fully cognizant of the fact that these groups backed by Tehran had just taken the lives of American troops.”
"We are not looking for a war with Iran,” Kirby said when asked about whether the U.S. will strike inside Iran. We are not looking to escalate the tensions any more than they have already been escalated."
As of 2 p.m. Eastern time, there had been no U.S. response to the Tower 22 attack. You can read more about potential targets of such a response in our analysis here.
Former CENTCOM commander, retired Army Gen. Joseph Votel, told The War Zone that the U.S. needs to send a clear message to Iran for the “horrible attack yesterday.” He echoed some of the likely possibilities we raised yesterday.
“I think any military response must send an unambiguous message to Iran that we are holding them, and them alone, accountable for this attack,” Votel told us Monday morning. “This does not necessarily mean that the response needs to take place in Iran - but it does mean that if we choose to strike it must be something that Iran values and causes them to pay a price.”
Votel suggested Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) “leaders in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon would be likely targets. I would also want to look at other military targets - Iranian ships at sea or coastal military installations.”
During his tenure at CENTCOM from 2016 to 2019, Votel had to recommend responses to attacks by Iranian-backed militias.
“Any recommendations I made regarding Iran directly were limited to addressing their facilitation of arms and munitions to their proxy network,” Votel, now a distinguished senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, explained. “Will leave it at that.”
Iran, meanwhile, is trying to distance itself from the deadly drone strike on Tower 22.
“The resistance groups in the region do not take orders from the Islamic Republic of Iran in their decisions and actions,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani said in a statement on Monday. “The Islamic Republic has no involvement in the resistance groups’ decisions on the way they support the Palestinian nation or defend themselves and the people of their countries in the face of any aggression and occupation.”
The U.S. failed to stop the attack on Tower 22 because the enemy drone approached its target at the same time a U.S. drone was also returning to base, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal on Monday.
"The return of the U.S. drone led to some confusion over whether the incoming drone was friend or foe, officials have concluded so far," the publication reported.
On his first day back to the Pentagon after a protracted absence following complications from prostate cancer surgery, Austin met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“Let me start with my outrage and sorrow (for) the deaths of three brave U.S. troops in Jordan and for the other troops who were wounded,” he said, according to the Pentagon pool report. “The president and I will not tolerate attacks on U.S. forces and we will take all necessary actions to defend the U.S. and our troops."
"Let me start by (expressing) my condolences for the U.S. troops killed and wounded in Jordan,” Stoltenberg said, adding that “Iran continues to destabilize the region, this includes backing terrorists who attack our ships in the Red Sea and the U.S. is leading international efforts to end these attacks."
The Houthis in Yemen, another Iranian-backed group, claims it fired “suitable naval missiles” at the Expeditionary Sea Base ship USS Lewis B. Puller as it was sailing in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday.
A U.S. defense official told The War Zone Monday morning that “we do not have any data to support that the Houthis shot at” the Puller.
The two Navy SEALs who are now presumed dead after they fell into the water during a Jan. 11 interdiction of Houthi-bound Iranian weapons, were operating from the Puller with the help of helicopters and drones, conducting a complex nighttime boarding operation when they went missing.
The SEALs were later identified as Navy Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers, 37, and Navy Special Warfare Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram, 27.
While the U.S. defense official pushed back on Houthi claims about an attack on the Puller, officials in the U.K. said the Type 45 destroyer HMS Diamond destroyed a Houthi drone that was targeting the ship in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday.
“The UK remains undaunted after yesterday’s illegal attack on @HMSDiamond by the Iranian backed Houthis. Our commitment to protect innocent lives and the freedom of navigation is absolutely unwavering.”
While Biden has vowed to respond to the attack on Tower 22, it remains unclear at this moment when, where and how that will happen.
Biden has made it clear he does not want to expand tensions in the Middle East. The region is already roiling over the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, constant attacks back and forth between Israel and Hezbollah along the Lebanese border and the unabated Houthi attacks on shipping despite several retaliatory strikes by the U.S. and U.K. Amid all this, U.S. military installations in Iraq have been struck more than 60 times and in Syria more than 90 times.
However, given that three Americans are dead and at least nearly three dozen more injured, the pressure is only increasing on Biden to hit Iran harder than he has so far.
Update: 2:46 PM Eastern -
The Department of Defense announced today the death of three Army Reserve soldiers who were supporting Operation Inherent Resolve.
Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, of Carrollton, Ga.; Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, of Waycross, Ga.; and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, of Savannah, Ga., died Jan. 28, 2024, in Jordan, when a one-way unmanned aerial system (OWUAS) impacted their container housing units. The incident is under investigation.
Rivers, Sanders and Moffett were assigned to the 718th Engineer Company, 926th Engineer Battalion, 926th Engineer Brigade, Fort Moore, Ga.
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