By Eric Schmitt
Three U.S. service members were killed in Jordan on Sunday and 25 others were injured in what the Biden administration said was a drone strike from an Iran-backed militia, the first U.S. military fatalities from hostile fire in the aftermath of Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip.
The attack happened at a base in northeast Jordan near the Syria border where the troops were based. Other details were not immediately available from the Pentagon’s Central Command, which issued an initial bare-bones statement Sunday.
But the deaths of U.S. service members will almost certainly put more pressure on President Joe Biden to respond more forcefully as turmoil grows in the Middle East after the Oct. 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people in Israel.
“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,” Biden said in a statement Sunday. “While we are still gathering the facts of this attack, we know it was carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq.”
The drone strike came as Israel and Hezbollah, another Iranian ally, have traded fire across the Lebanese border. A Houthi militia in Yemen, also backed by Iran, has fired missiles and drones at commercial ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, calling it a retaliation for the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. The United States and its allies have fired back, striking inside Yemen multiple times.
And last Saturday, at least four U.S. service members stationed in western Iraq were injured when their air base came under heavy rocket and missile fire from what U.S. officials said were Iran-backed militias. It was the latest in more than 150 strikes by Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq against U.S. troops there since the Oct. 7 attacks.
The United States has some 2,000 troops stationed at an air base in Azraq, Jordan, as well as Special Operations forces, military trainers and support personnel for the U.S. base at Al Tanf, Syria. The U.S. troops are there largely to assist in regional efforts to stamp out remnants of the Islamic State group.
In his statement, Biden called the U.S. troops in Jordan “patriots in the highest sense,” and said they were “risking their own safety for the safety of their fellow Americans, and our allies and partners with whom we stand in the fight against terrorism. It is a fight we will not cease.”
Last Sunday, the Pentagon declared two Navy SEALs dead after they disappeared 10 days earlier during an operation at sea to intercept weapons from Iran headed to Houthi fighters.
They were the first known U.S. fatalities in Washington’s campaign against the Houthis, who have launched dozens of attacks on ships in the Red Sea since November, roiling the global shipping industry.
The Americans killed Sunday were the first known fatalities from hostile fire in Yemen, Iraq or the surrounding areas and waters.