Konstantin Toropin and Rebecca Kheel | Military.com
The Pentagon said Monday that the three service members killed in an Iranian-backed militia drone attack on their living quarters at a small logistics base in Jordan on Sunday were Army Reserve soldiers from the same unit.
The soldiers who lost their lives were Sgt. William Rivers, 46; Spc. Kennedy Sanders, 24; and Spc. Breonna Moffett, 23. They were assigned to the 718 Engineer Company, an Army Reserve unit based out of Fort Moore, Georgia, according to Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, who briefed reporters on the incident Monday.
In addition to the three killed, Singh said that, as of Monday, more than 40 service members were injured in the deadly attack that came after months of similar strikes on bases that house U.S. troops in Syria and Iraq. The Jordan drone strike marked the first American service members killed in the wave of violence that has swept the region since Israel went to war with Hamas, and President Joe Biden vowed Sunday that the U.S. would respond.
The number of troops wounded in the Jordan attack climbed steadily over the past two days. U.S. Central Command initially said that 25 were injured but later updated the total to "at least 34 service members" as of Sunday evening.
On Sunday, Central Command also said that eight personnel had injuries severe enough to need evacuation from Jordan. Singh said all were taken to the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, located at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq's capital, and three of those patients are scheduled for "imminent transport" to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany for follow-on care.
The attacks in Iraq, Syria and now Jordan come as the U.S. has launched a campaign of strikes against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have targeted merchant shipping in what they claim is an operation against Israel and its war in Gaza. U.S. warships and airpower, along with international partners, have increasingly been pulled into that conflict.
Singh said the Jordan attack was conducted by an Iranian-backed militia, and it was the first deadly incident for U.S. forces since groups linked to Iran ratcheted up drone, mortar and missile strikes in the region on Oct. 17. Since that time, officials said there have been at least 165 attacks on U.S. positions in Iraq and Syria that have left at least 80 injured, not counting the service member deaths and injuries Sunday.
In a separate briefing Friday, a senior defense official told reporters that most of those injuries "are from concussive events from rocket mortar, indirect fire, or one-way [drone] attacks with anything from 8 to 50 kilograms of explosives."
The Sunday drone strike hit what is called Tower 22, an outpost that sits in the demilitarized zone between Jordan and Syria near the U.S garrison at al-Tanf in Syria, according to The Associated Press. Singh noted that the attack had "the footprints of Kata'ib Hezbollah" but said the Pentagon was not yet "making a final assessment on that."
Multiple outlets have reported that the drone managed to sneak past defenses by shadowing a returning U.S. UAV, which led to confusion over whether the attack drone was friendly or not.
Singh would not directly confirm those reports but did say U.S. Central Command is investigating. She said the Jordan attack did differ from previous attacks due to where the drone detonated, and that the base was not any less protected compared to others in the region.
"It did impact where living quarters are and I believe it was pretty early morning, so people were actually in there," Singh said, later adding that she believed only a single building was hit.
The deaths have prompted hawkish Republicans to increase their pressure on Biden for a stronger military response to the spate of attacks U.S. forces have faced in the Middle East since October, including calling for a strike on Iran itself.
"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. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said in a statement Sunday. "Anything less will confirm Joe Biden as a coward unworthy of being commander in chief."
Some Republicans, such as Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., and Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, have alluded to the January 2020 assassination of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani ordered by then-President Donald Trump as the type of action Biden could take to compel Iran to call off its proxy forces.
But the Soleimani killing did not end the threat to U.S. troops from Iran and its proxy forces then. Rather, days after the killing, more than 100 U.S. troops suffered brain injuries when Iran retaliated by launching a barrage of missiles at a base in Iraq. And a few months later, in March 2020, two U.S. troops in Iraq were killed in a rocket attack by an Iranian-backed militia.
Biden's Democratic allies in Congress are acknowledging some form of military response will be necessary after the U.S. troop deaths this weekend. But several top Democrats, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin, D-Md., also stressed the response should be "deliberate and proportionate."
"I think it is quite worthy at this point to consider whether or not there are targets within Iran, targets where the drones are being made, where the missiles are being made, military targets to send the message that they're not going to get a free pass anymore because that's what Iran has gotten out of this," Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said on CNN on Sunday.
"Right now, they think they can promote their proxies to attack us with no consequences," Smith added. "If that doesn't change, these attacks will continue."
Biden, though, has also been facing competing calls from some Democrats and anti-interventionist Republicans to scale back any military action in the Middle East absent specific congressional approval. Those calls were initially sparked by the Biden administration's wave of strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen, and some of the same voices who urged restraint there are now admonishing those pushing for military action against Iran.
"There is no 'Iran is bad' exception to the Constitution," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, posted on social media Sunday. "If we're going to war, Congress must declare it."