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May 23, 2024

Biden Weighs Response After Iran-Backed Militias Kill U.S. Troops

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Jan 30, 2024

Escalating Tensions Raise Prospect of Wider Conflict

Tensions between the United States and Iran have dramatically escalated after Iran-backed militias launched drone attacks over the weekend, killing multiple American service members stationed in Syria.

The brazen assault, which U.S. officials say was orchestrated by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), marks the deadliest attack against U.S. troops in the region in years. It comes amid a shadow war between Iran and the West that has simmered on and off since the Trump administration.

President Biden now faces growing pressure to retaliate, even as he seeks to avoid a spiral into wider conflict. His response could shape the prospects for reviving the tattered 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

Attack Kills 3 U.S. Troops, Injures 5 in Syria

U.S. Central Command said militants fired more than 13 drones laden with explosives in the attack targeting the country’s small contingent of several hundred troops. Three service members were killed and five others suffered injuries.

While no group immediately claimed responsibility, U.S. officials said the Iranian proxy group coordinating the assault was a Shiite militia known as Guardians of Blood Brigade.

The little-known militia is linked with the prominent, Iran-backed group Hezbollah Brigades, which the United States designated as a terrorist organization in 2020.

U.S. forces maintain a small presence in Syria’s northeast, allied with Kurdish forces battling remnants of the Islamic State group. The American troops have occasionally come under fire from Iran-allied factions, but Sunday’s drone barrage marked the largest coordinated assault yet.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has been placed on high alert over fears of reprisal attacks. Diplomats in Iraq warned that tensions remained precariously elevated, heightening risks of miscalculation by either side.

Escalating Proxy War Raises Alarms

The brazen assault is the latest and most provocative in a string of attacks targeting U.S. positions and allies that Washington blames on Iranian proxies. Analysts say it reflects Tehran’s deepening reliance in recent years on Shiite militia networks to project power and undermine adversaries across the Middle East.

The Biden administration has responded to the escalating shadow war by targeting Iranian arms shipments and militia commanders with strikes and sanctions. But the president faces growing calls, including from some Democrats, for more decisive action after the deadly drone assault.

“The attacks underscore the failure of the Biden team’s approach,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The White House needs to understand that calibrated coercions are viewed as signs of weakness, not restraint, by the Iranian regime.”

The administration has warned that Iran could order further strikes in coming weeks to mark the anniversary of the U.S. assassination two years ago of revered Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani.

The prospect of Iranian retaliation has put U.S. installations across the Middle East on heightened alert. Some analysts say the recent strikes could presage a dangerous new chapter.

“We may have reached a turning point,” said Vali Nasr, a former State Department official now teaching at Johns Hopkins University. “This could easily spin out of control.”

Attack Type Date Location Attributed To
Rocket Attack January 2023 Green Zone, Baghdad Iran-backed militia
Drone Attack August 2022 Tanf Base, Syria Iran-backed militia
Tanker attack November 2021 Off Oman’s coast Iran

White House Debates the Response

President Biden faces calls to chart a more forceful course against Iranian aggression without risking outright war. But the path ahead is strewn with hazards.

Potential retaliatory measures range from further sanctions and regional troop buildups to limited strikes against Iranian proxies and naval pressure targeting Tehran’s oil exports.

But some former officials and analysts argue that incremental measures will no longer suffice given brazen strikes imperiling U.S. troops. They say Iran’s escalating proxy war stems from perception of American weakness.

“This demands a response that shakes the regime to its foundations,” said Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The administration needs to regain deterrence before we stumble into a much uglier regional conflagration.”

Critics of President Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy toward Iran say the last thing the U.S. needs is provocation risking wider conflict. A military buildup could needlessly endanger troops in the region while limited strikes may deepen the cycle of retaliation, they argue.

The political stakes for Biden are also high as Republicans accuse him of inviting danger by offering economic relief to Iran. They slammed the administration after Sunday’s lethal attack.

“Tragically Biden has still learned nothing about the mullahs in Tehran,” said conservative commentator Andrew Neil in Britain’s Daily Mail tabloid.

Nuclear Deal Hopes Further Complicated

Administration officials say Biden still wants to revive the 2015 nuclear accord if Iran returns to compliance. Under the deal, Tehran curbed nuclear work in return for economic relief before Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2018.

But the multiplying crises make diplomacy a steeper challenge. Iranian officials this month said they rejected American proposals to revive the agreement as insufficient.

While both governments signal they would prefer to avoid war, the prospect of dangerous miscalculation has grown alarmingly higher as tempers run hot, foreign policy analysts say.

One wild card is how key U.S. partners Israel and Saudi Arabia respond to American policy shifts. Israeli officials have issued threats to take matters into their own hands if they deem Washington’s course against Iran too conciliatory.

Conclusion

President Biden entered office aiming to tame hostilities with Iran through diplomacy. But Tehran now poses him one of the severest foreign policy tests of his presidency.

As Iran expands support for allied militias targeting U.S. forces across the region, the White House is under growing pressure to hit back decisively without triggering uncontrolled escalation.

But a descent into open conflict serves neither American nor Iranian interests, Iran experts note. They urge intensive diplomacy focusing first on de-escalation while keeping prospects alive for the nuclear deal.

“War would be disastrous for both countries,” said Vali Nasr of Johns Hopkins University. “It may take very adroit statecraft on both sides to step back from the precipice.”

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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