By Jack Phillips
Three American servicemembers were killed early on Jan. 28 in a drone attack on a small U.S. base in Jordan, the Biden administration said in a statement. At least two dozen other troops were injured in the incident, according to U.S. officials.
They were the first U.S. fatalities after months of strikes by Iranian-backed groups against American forces across the Middle East since the start of the Israel–Hamas conflict in Gaza, the White House and military officials confirmed. President Joe Biden vowed to hold the perpetrators to account; so far, no organization or government has claimed responsibility.
“Today, America’s heart is heavy,” the president said in a Jan. 28 statement. “Last night, three U.S. service members were killed—and many wounded—during an unmanned aerial drone attack on our forces stationed in northeast Jordan near the Syria border.”
U.S. officials are still working to conclusively identify the precise group responsible for the attack but have assessed that one of several Iranian-backed groups is responsible.
“As a matter of respect for the families and in accordance with [Department of Defense] policy, the identities of the servicemembers will be withheld until 24 hours after their next of kin have been notified,” a statement from U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reads.
There was no immediate reaction from Jordan, a kingdom that borders Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Some 3,000 U.S. troops are typically stationed in Jordan.
President Biden’s statement accused “radical” groups backed by Iran operating in Iraq and Syria for the attacks, saying the United States “will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner our choosing,” without providing more details. Then, he called those who died “patriots” and said they were victims of an “unjust attack.”
“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,” he said.
Jordanian state television quoted Muhannad Moubaideen, a government spokesman, as insisting that the attack occurred outside the kingdom across the border in Syria. The conflicting information couldn’t be immediately verified by The Epoch Times.
Since Hamas targeted Israel in a series of terrorist attacks that left about 1,300 civilians dead on Oct. 7, 2023, U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria have faced drone and missile attacks on their bases. The attack on Jordan marks the first targeting of American troops in Jordan during the war.
Syria, led by longtime strongman and Iran ally Bashar al-Assad, is still in the midst of a civil war and has long been a launch pad for Iranian-backed forces there, including the Lebanese militia Hezbollah, U.S. officials have long said. Iraq has multiple Iranian-backed Shiite militias and terrorist groups operating there as well.
Jordan, a staunch Western ally and a crucial power in Jerusalem for its oversight of holy sites there, is believed to have launched airstrikes in Syria to disrupt drug smugglers, including one that killed nine people earlier this month.
In January, two Navy SEALS were presumed by the U.S. military to have died after going missing during an operation near the coast of Somalia, although few details were provided. Officials said they were attempting to seize Iranian-made weapons that were being sent to the Houthi terrorist group based in Yemen, which has carried out a number of attacks on U.S. military ships and commercial vehicles since the start of the Israel–Gaza conflict.
Over the recent weekend, the Houthis attacked another commercial vehicle, targeting a British-linked tanker in the Gulf of Aden, officials said. A fire on the ship was eventually extinguished.
UK Defense Secretary Grant Shapps described the attack as “intolerable and illegal.”
“It is our duty to protect freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, and we remain as committed to that cause as ever,” he said on social media.
A spokesperson for the Houthis said the ship, the Marlin Luanda, belongs to the UK and had to be attacked due to “American–British aggression against our country,” Yemen. However, U.S. and UK officials, including at CENTCOM, both said the attacks targeting commercial vessels have nothing to do with the conflict in Gaza.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.