President Biden vowed action after three U.S. service members were killed and several injured in a drone strike on a military base in Jordan on Saturday. The attack targeted a base known as Tower 22 near the Syria-Jordan border, where roughly 200 American troops have been stationed to assist Jordanian forces battling extremist groups in Syria.
Background on Tower 22
Tower 22 is a small military outpost nestled in the desolate Syrian Desert just miles from a constellation of U.S. military bases pressing ISIS in Syria. Usually staffed by a few dozen American special operations troops, it plays an increasingly vital role in the fight against the remnants of the Islamic State group and in limiting Iranian influence in the region.
The base serves as a launch pad for U.S. drone strikes against militants in Syria and particularly Iranian-backed forces. It houses advanced reconnaissance drones capturing images deep inside Syria as part of the global war on terrorism.
The remote base serves as a ground communication hub between other U.S. bases in the Middle East and Syria. Its troops can quickly deploy to conduct counterterrorism raids into Syria for high-value targets and rescue operations for downed aircrews.
Details of the Recent Attack
On Saturday January 28th, multiple drones loaded with explosives targeted the small garrison near Syria’s Tanf border crossing according to U.S. Central Command. Jordanian state media reported that the drones flew into Jordan from Syria leading to speculation that Iranian-backed militias orchestrated the brazen daytime assault.
Three U.S. service members — Army Staff Sgt. Melissa A. Moffett, Army Sgt. William H. Rivers and Army Staff Sgt. Antonio D. Moore —were killed in the unprecedented attack.
At least four other Americans were wounded along with several Jordanian troops in what represented a marked escalation against U.S. forces. Up until Saturday’s drone strike, Iranian-backed militias avoided directly targeting American soldiers in Syria and Iraq, instead going after contractors, civilians and Iraqi security forces allied with the U.S.
|Army Staff Sgt. Melissa A. Moffett
|Army Sgt. William H. Rivers
|Army Staff Sgt. Antonio D. Moore
The attack threatens a fragile U.S. military mission in Syria deemed essential for battling Islamic State group militants who continue to wage an insurgency.
It also comes as friction between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza is intensifying. Over the weekend, Israel struck Gaza after militants launched rockets and explosive balloons during several days of tension.
Further stoking tensions, an Israeli Cabinet minister has visited a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site for the first time since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government took office, triggering Palestinian calls for a “day of rage.”
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, President Biden issued a statement saying he directed his team to provide all appropriate support to the investigation into the attack.
“My heartfelt condolences go out to the loved ones of those killed, and my thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured,” he said.
Top members of Biden’s national security team briefed him on the situation after the attack was first reported. Biden was updated overnight about next steps as the military services began notifying the troops’ next of kin.
Congressional Republicans criticized the Biden administration’s response as too muted. They questioned the decision not to have President Biden personally address the deadly attack.
“The multiple drone strike killing American servicemembers in Syria demands that President Biden take decisive action,” said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Anything short of that indicates weakness on the world stage.”
The White House so far has refrained from publicly blaming Iran for the attack, saying it’s still under investigation. However other officials, speaking anonymously to discuss details that have not been made public, said it bore all the hallmarks of an Iranian attack.
Iran has denied involvement in the attack. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson said “We strongly condemn any attack on military bases hosting foreign troops on Syrian soil” in a statement on Sunday. The spokesperson reiterated previous statements denying that Iran has any military presence or bases in southern Syria.
Iran has demanded all American troops leave the region. Top Biden administration officials confirmed they were reviewing potential military responses but insisted no decisions have been made.
What Comes Next
As the U.S. weighs options, officials said military options could include launching drone strikes or airstrikes against militias in eastern Syria that have ties to Iran, specifically in Deir el-Zour province bordering Iraq.
Another option could be American airstrikes inside Iraq targeting Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces umbrella of mostly Shiite militias. Some have links to Iran and operate with a degree of autonomy from the Baghdad government.
Given the complexities of the situation in Syria, President Biden will likely opt for a restrained response in an attempt to deter future attacks without sparking a wider conflict with Iran. But pressure is mounting for a strong response with some analysts warning that anything less could embolden Iran or its proxies.
“When somebody kills an American servicemember unlawfully, unprovoked, we owe it to those servicemembers and their memory to make sure that we take the right thoughtful, careful response — not the political response,” said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.
As the U.S. weighs its next steps, officials said the base has now become a focus of regional intrigue with Iran, Syria, Jordan, Russia and the U.S. wrestling to control the strategic area.
The base is expected to play an even more important role as the fight against Islamic State militants wanes and the U.S. pulls troops out of Iraq and Syria while focusing on threats from Iran.
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