Drone Attack In Jordan Kills Three American Troops (Updated)

President Biden blamed Iranian-backed militias for the attack, which will escalate the already extremely volatile situation in the region.

byHoward Altman|
Three U.S. troops were killed and more than two dozen injured by an Iranian-backed militia drone strike on Tower 22.
Tower 22. Google Earth image
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In a major escalation of tensions in the Middle East, three U.S. troops were killed and more than two dozen injured by a drone attack on a U.S. base in Jordan near the border with Syria on Jan. 28, according to U.S. Central Command. This attack marked the first time U.S. troops were killed in the Middle East since the beginning of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7. It is also the first attack on American troops in Jordan since that conflict erupted.

President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin blamed the attack on Iranian-backed militia groups. "We will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner our choosing," said Biden. Austin later echoed that sentiment in a statement of his own.

CENTCOM did not say who launched the drones, or name the branch of the troops killed and injured. The Islamic Resistance, a loose-knit group of Iranian-backed militias, said that it attacked three U.S. bases in Syria, including Al Tanf as well as the Israeli Zevulun naval facility in the port of Haifa.

"The Islamic Resistance confirms that it will continue to destroy enemy strongholds," said the group, threatening additional attacks.

The attack in Jordan took place at a small U.S. logistics hub called Tower 22 that serves the Al-Tanf base in Syria, The Wall Street Journal reported. Located about 12 miles south of Al Tanf, it is used largely by troops involved in the advise-and-assist mission for Jordanian forces, The Associated Press reported. The small installation, which Jordan does not publicly disclose, includes U.S. engineering, aviation, logistics and security troops.

The number of troops wounded may grow, according to a U.S. official cited by the AP. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details not made public, said a large drone struck the base. 

"It’s unclear why air defenses failed to intercept the drone, which appears to be the first known attack on Tower 22 since attacks on U.S. and coalition forces began on October 17. U.S. forces at the outpost are there as part of an advise-and-assist mission with Jordan," CNN reported.

Some 3,000 American troops typically are stationed in Jordan, the AP noted, adding that Iranian-backed militias have struck American military installations in Iraq more than 60 times and in Syria more than 90 times, with a mix of drones, rockets, mortars and ballistic missiles.

That includes a massive attack by Iranian-made ballistic missiles on the Al-Assad Air Base in Iraq on Jan. 20 that inflicted traumatic brain injuries on several troops.

Previous attacks have wounded scores of U.S. personnel, including some with traumatic brain injuries. 

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were briefed by their national security team this afternoon by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary Antony Blinken, Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, Chairman CQ Brown, Director Avril Haines, Director Bill Burns, Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield, Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, and Chief of Staff Jeff Zients.

Austin, in his own statement, said he is "outraged."

“I am outraged and deeply saddened by the deaths of three of our U.S. service members and the wounding of other American troops in an attack last night against U.S. and Coalition forces, who were deployed to a site in northeastern Jordan near the Syrian border to work for the lasting defeat of ISIS," Austin remarked. "These brave Americans and their families are in my prayers, and the entire Department of Defense mourns their loss."  

"Iran-backed militias are responsible for these continued attacks on U.S. forces, and we will respond at a time and place of our choosing. 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.”

Iran-backed fighters in east Syria began evacuating their posts, fearing U.S. airstrikes, according to Omar Abu Layla, a Europe-based activist who heads the Deir Ezzor 24 media outlet, AP reported. Layla told the AP that the areas are the strongholds of Mayadeen and Boukamal. Those sites are located about 150 miles northeast of where the U.S. base in Jordan was hit.

Iranian-backed militias in Mayadeen and Boukamal are said to have evacuated their positions ahead of expected U.S. retaliatory strikes. (Google Earth image)

The U.S. has carried out a number of strikes against Iranian-backed militias, including one Jan. 20 in response to the attack on Al-Assad.

This is a developing story.

Update: 4:16 PM Eastern -

Jordan issued a statement condemning the attack and said none of its troops were hurt:

"Jordan condemned the terrorist attack that targeted an outpost on the border with Syria, killing three US soldiers and injuring two others from the US forces that are cooperating with Jordan in countering terrorism and securing the border."

"Minister of Government Communications and government spokesperson, Muhannad Mubaideen, expressed Jordan's condolences to the United States over the victims of the attack, which was carried out by a drone, and wished the injured a speedy recovery."

"Mubaideen said that the terrorist attack did not result in any casualties among officers of the Jordan Armed Forces."

"He stressed that Jordan will continue to counter terrorism and the smuggling of drugs and weapons across the Syrian border into Jordan, and will confront with firmness and determination anyone who attempts to attack the security of the Kingdom."

"Jordan had previously announced that it is cooperating with its partners to secure the border and has asked the United States and other friendly countries to provide it with the military systems and equipment necessary to increase its capabilities to secure the border and face the dangers across it."

Tower 22 is about 145 miles northeast of Jordan's Muwaffaq Salti Air Base. As we have previously reported, "it is a major staging location for U.S. airpower and a critical intrathreater transit hub for American forces, and has been in especially heavy use since the current Israel-Gaza conflict erupted. A Patriot battery is likely desired to protect this shared air base."

"The forward operating base in At Tanf in Syria, which sits in a tri-border region opposite northeastern Jordan and southwestern Iraq, has been a top target of attacks from Iranian-backed proxies, as well. It has come under sporadic attack for the better part of a decade, but in recent weeks, it has been the focus of drone and rocket strikes. A Patriot battery located across the border near the border in Jordan could cover At Tanf as a contingency against wider-scale attacks should the conflict erupt throughout the reason. A shield against Iranian ballistic missiles would be of particular need."

Update: 7:47 PM -

CENTCOM just released a statement with updated information:

"On Jan. 28, three U.S. service members were killed, and multiple personnel were injured from a one-way attack UAS that impacted on a base in northeast Jordan, near the Syrian border. As an update to the earlier announcement, the number of U.S. personnel with injuries has increased to at least 34 service members, but we expect this number to fluctuate as service members continue to seek follow-on care. Eight personnel that received injuries required evacuation from Jordan to higher level care, but they are in stable condition. All other service members are being fully evaluated for follow-on care." 

"The attack occurred at the logistics support base located at Tower 22 of the Jordanian Defense Network. 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. "

"As a matter of respect for the families and in accordance with DoD policy, the identities of the service members will be withheld until 24 hours after their next of kin have been notified. U.S. Central Command will continue to provide updates as they become available."

Update: 9:35 PM—

We have a new post up with thoughts and analysis of what's to come in the near term and where this all may be heading. Check it out here.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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