Iranian Proxies Kill Three American Soldiers

Further escalation is inevitable.

POLITICO (“Republican hawks call for retaliation after 3 killed in Iranian-backed strike“):

Calls for retaliation began pouring in from Republican members of Congress moments after U.S. Central Command revealed Sunday that three U.S. service members were killed Saturday night at an American base in Jordan in a drone attack launched by Iranian-backed militias.

“It is time to act with purpose and resolve in response to attacks that have tragically taken the lives of American service members and injured scores more,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee said in a statement.

“We must respond to these repeated attacks by Iran and its proxies by striking directly against Iranian targets and its leadership. … It is time to act swiftly and decisively for the whole world to see.”

Some of Wicker’s fellow Senate Republicans made similar statements.

“The Biden Administration can take out all the Iranian proxies they like, but it will not deter Iranian aggression. I am calling on the Biden Administration to strike targets of significance inside Iran, not only as reprisal for the killing of our forces, but as deterrence against future aggression,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wrote. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) made a similar call: “The only answer to these attacks must be devastating military retaliation against Iran’s terrorist forces, both in Iran and across the Middle East.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) initially didn’t mince words: “Target Tehran,” he posted, before later clarifying that it was not a call to bomb Iranian civilians.

“America must send a crystal clear message across the globe that attacks on our troops will not be tolerated,” Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said.

The tragedy, Majority Leader Steve Scalise posted, “was avoidable.”

“For years now Biden has emboldened Iran — sending them billions & tolerating their aggression against our troops. America must show strength,” the No. 2 House Republican said.

The House Intelligence Committee has requested a briefing on the situation in Jordan, according to a person familiar with the request.

“It’s long past time for President Biden to finally hold the terrorist Iranian regime and their extremist proxies accountable for the attacks they’ve carried out against U.S. and coalition forces,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee said in a statement.

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), ranking member of the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee, said he was “heartbroken” for the service members who were killed and urged the Biden administration to rapidly respond.

“We must hold those responsible accountable for this unjustifiable attack, and take further steps to protect our personnel in the region. I expect the Intelligence Committee will receive additional information on those efforts this week,” Himes said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called for action that would cripple not just the organizations carrying out the attacks, but “their Iranian sponsors who wear American blood as a badge of honor,” as well.

“The time to start taking this aggression seriously was long before more brave Americans lost their lives,” McConnell said in a statement.

While political grandstanding by Congressional Republicans in the wake of the killing of three American soldiers is gross, it’s par for the course at this point. And, despite the headline claim that only “Republican hawks” are calling for a significant military response, serious players on both sides are doing so. Indeed, President Biden has all but said that one is coming.

AP (“Biden says US ‘shall respond’ after drone strike by Iran-backed group kills 3 US troops in Jordan“):

President Joe Biden said Sunday that the U.S. “shall respond” after three American troops were killed and dozens more were injured in an overnight drone strike in northeast Jordan near the Syrian border. Biden blamed Iran-backed militias for the first U.S. fatalities after months of strikes by such groups against American forces across the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

Biden, who was traveling in South Carolina, asked for a moment of silence during an appearance at a Baptist church’s banquet hall.

“We had a tough day last night in the Middle East. We lost three brave souls in an attack on one of our bases,” he said. After the moment of silence, Biden added, “and we shall respond.”

With an increasing risk of military escalation in the region, U.S. officials were working to conclusively identify the precise group responsible for the attack, but they have assessed that one of several Iranian-backed groups was behind it.

[…]

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. He told The Associated Press that the areas are the strongholds of Mayadeen and Boukamal.

U.S. Central Command said at least 34 troops were injured by the one-way attack drone, with eight flown out of Jordan for follow-up care. It described the eight as being in stable condition.

The large drone struck a logistics support base in Jordan known as Tower 22. It is along the Syrian border and is used largely by troops involved in the advise-and-assist mission for Jordanian forces.

Central Command said approximately 350 U.S. Army and Air Force personnel were deployed to the base. The three who were killed and most of the wounded were Army soldiers, according to several U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to give details not yet made public.

The small installation, which Jordan does not publicly disclose, includes U.S. engineering, aviation, logistics and security troops. Austin said the troops were deployed there “to work for the lasting defeat of ISIS.” Three officials said the drone struck near the troops’ sleeping quarters, which they said explained the high casualty count.

The combination of multiple overlapping proxy fights in the region and the presence of U.S. forces in just about every country there made it almost inevitable that we would suffer casualties. We have already conducted multiple strikes on the Houthis and are supplying significant support to Israel in its war with Hamas, both Iranian proxies.

After this attack, we will almost surely target Iranian forces and/or bases directly. The political pressures to do so are just too high, especially in an election year. Doing enough to satisfy that demand while remaining below the threshold of forcing Iranian counter-retaliation is no easy feat.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Scott says:

    And there are more complications in a very complex environment. This is from January 5th.

    Jordan strikes Iran-linked drug dealers in Syria -intelligence sources

    Jordan on Thursday launched air strikes inside Syria against suspected warehouses and hideouts of Iranian-backed drug smugglers, Jordanian and regional intelligence sources said.

    The army has stepped up a campaign against drug dealers after protracted clashes last month with dozens of infiltrators from Syria linked to pro-Iranian militias, carrying large hauls who crossed its border with weapons and explosives.

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  2. Scott says:

    While political grandstanding by Congressional Republicans in the wake of the killing of three American soldiers is gross, it’s par for the course at this point.

    It is also not very MAGA of them:

    ‘F—ing lunatics’: Deadly Jordan attacks spur open GOP feud

    Iran-backed attacks in Jordan that killed three U.S. service members are intensifying the growing GOP divide over national security, as senior Hill Republicans calling for immediate retaliation clash with Trump-style isolationists.

    While former President Donald Trump himself gave a measured response to the attacks, influential conservative voice Tucker Carlson called two senators who pushed for a swift U.S. military response against Iran after the attack “ fucking lunatics” in a post on X.

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  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    Time to sink whatever’s left of the Iranian navy and blow up some proxy camps. I’m just hoping Bibi doesn’t freelance.

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  4. Slugger says:

    Of course, US forces should defend themselves from any attack. However before undertaking some retaliatory actions against what we believe are the instigators, let’s do some real thinking. Does bombing Teheran advance our interests? A simplistic chest-thumping action might boost Biden’s popularity, but haven’t we seen undesirable consequences from such actions many times? Mogadishu, first Iraq war, second Iraq war, Afghanistan, all mixed results. Think before shooting!

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  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Slugger:
    It is not possible for this, or any American president, to refuse to retaliate. Biden’s been very restrained so far, but you cannot kill American servicemen with impunity. As for the cases you rightly cite as examples of unfortunate consequences, no one is talking about boots on the ground in Iran.

    The question is not should we strike back – we will. The question is where and how. Iran will be a shit-stirrer until the Iranian people throw off the religious fanatics who run the country. And thanks to Trump, Iran is now closer to a nuclear break-out capability. So if it were me I might be tempted to think okay, you want this fight? Let’s do it, and then dismantle Iran’s nuclear facilities. I don’t like proportional response. If a guy punched me in the face I think my move should be to put him in the hospital, not get into a back-and-forth slap fight.

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  6. steve says:

    I certainly understand the desire to hit Iran hard. It’s what I would if someone attacked me and it would probably work. However we have a history of hitting nations hard in the ME and they have not rolled over. We spent 20 years in Afghanistan and they Russians spent a lot of time there and they just continued fighting back. So I have no problems hiding Iran hard in some way but I dont think we can assume they will just roll over. We need a plan for which the goal is to stop their attacks, which might include more aggressive responses on our part but actually has an end game. Also, how much do we want to go to war again? How well has it gone for us?

    Steve

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  7. dazedandconfused says:

    What troubles me is there are, as Steve mentioned, several over-lapping entities in the region. There are Iranian backed, Iraqi backed, and ISIS militias, yet the reports are only of Iranian ones. I would feel better about this if they would name the militia which did the Jordan hit. If our intell is good enough to “know” it was an Iranian backed group, why not name it?

    Some folks out there obsessed with getting a war started between the US and Iran. This reminds me a bit too much of the lead-up to Iraq II.

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  8. Chip Daniels says:

    It seems like a very calculated attempt to lure us into the ongoing war.
    However, it also seems like part of their strategy to derail the Saudi peace overtures to Israel, as part of Iran’s attempt to gain hegemony in the region.

    I think we could use some showy, symbolic chest thumping explosions, followed by quiet efforts to restore the Saudi Israel peace process, derailing Iran’s larger goals.

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  9. Gustopher says:

    American Proxies kill 25,000 Palestinians.

    Not saying that this group was doing the right thing, or are even connected to Israel-Palestine is any meaningful way, but you can over-simplify things in any number of directions to support whatever conclusion you want to make.

    (Maybe it is just continuing fallout from the Trump administration killing an Iranian general a few years back…)

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  10. Scott says:

    We need to remember that the 3 soldiers killed are real people. Please overlook and forgive the bland banality of the press release.

    Here is the DoD Press Release:

    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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  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I am most decidedly tired of the calls for, “Oooo, we got a mosquito bite! We must decapitate the entire population of Iran!.” voices, whether it is Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestinians, Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS, etc etc etc ad infinitum.

    Yes we have to give them a reply, but can we give them a reply that says, “We are serious, but we do not have genocide on our minds.”? I mean really, we can’t kill them all. Really. We can’t. Israel is currently trying to do exactly that with Hamas in Gaza. Does anybody, anybody anywhere, seriously believe that is gonna work????

    Right now Israel is Hamas’s biggest recruiter. Tell me how that benefits Israel. Please, explain it to me.

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  12. Andy says:

    Busy week, so not much time for blog stuff, but a few thoughts:

    – Considering the continuous number of attacks over the past few months, it was inevitable that one would get through.
    – This is not exactly the best time to have scattered outposts of US forces in the region. While I understand some of the reasons we still have forces in Syria, the downsides should now be obvious if they weren’t months ago. Same with Iraq. While technically, this attack took place on Jordanian soil, it was on the border at an area that is key to our continuing intervention in Syria.
    – Syria is a “state” that is still in the midst of a civil war, with interventions by outside powers including Israel, Russia, the US, Iran, and Turkey.
    – The best way to fight proxies is with proxies. We aren’t very good at that anymore.
    – We need to punch back hard, but not too hard. That porridge needs to be just right. It’s really not in our interest to start a major war with Iran.
    – There is so much crap leaking right now about potential strike targets that my only hope is that it’s intentionally flooding the zone to confuse the Iranians, but I can’t discount the possibility that the usual DC courtiers are doing their usual douchebaggery. Anyway, the rumint is the strike (s) are happening tonight.

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  13. Ken_L says:

    It’s passing strange that so many people are comfortable to label Iraqi militias/Syrian militias/Hamas/Hezbollah/Houthis and various other groups as “Iranian proxies”, but indignantly reject the idea the Kurds/IDF/official Iraqi army are “American proxies”. I’m sure most Iranians take the complete opposite view of events.

    Instead of framing the Middle East as a one-dimensional conflict in which Iran and its “proxies” are at war with America for ill-defined reasons, it would be helpful to read some informed journalistic commentary on who the various groups are in the region, what their interests are, and the extent to which they work in cooperation with Iran/Saudi Arabia/Israel/Turkey and so on.

    An explanation of why US troops are stationed in Jordan, and what their mission is, would also be informative.

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  14. JKB says:

    They died fighting for “this administration” or so the White House declares via the press secretary.

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