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May 22, 2024

Iran-backed militia says it suspends attacks on US forces after deadly Jordan base drone strike

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Jan 31, 2024

A Iran-backed militia group has announced it is suspending military operations against US forces in the Middle East, after a drone attack last week on a base in Jordan housing American troops that killed 3 US service members.

Background

On January 27th, an attack by explosives-laden drones hit the Tower 22 base in Jordan’s Jafr area, where US troops have been stationed to help coordinate drone strikes against extremists in the region. The attack killed US Army Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, US Army Sgt. Breonna Moffett, and US Army Specialist Kennedy Sanders. Two other Americans were wounded in the attack.

The United States believes the attack was carried out by Iranian-backed militias in the region as retribution for US air strikes in Syria last year that killed and wounded militiamen though there has been no claim of responsibility for the attack.

Tensions between Iran and the US have simmered for years but have not boiled over into open conflict. Some key events:

  • 2018: President Trump withdraws the US from the Iran nuclear deal engineered by the Obama administration. Harsh US sanctions resume, deeply damaging Iran’s economy.
  • 2020: A US drone strike in Iraq kills top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iran responds with a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing American troops. No one is killed but over 100 US troops suffer traumatic brain injuries.
  • 2022: Iran-backed militias intensify rocket attacks, targeting al-Asad Airbase in western Iraq as well as the city of Erbil, where the US has a consulate. The US carries out retaliatory strikes.
  • 2023: In October, the US carries out strikes in Deir Ez Zor, Syria targeting Iran-backed militiamen. At least 10 militiamen are killed and several more wounded. Iran promises retaliation.

The January 27th attack on Tower 22 appears to be Iran making good on its promise to retaliate. However, perhaps fearing all-out war, the militia group has now said it is suspending further attacks.

Militia group suspends attacks

Iraq’s Kataib Hezbollah militia, a hardline pro-Iran group which the United States has blamed for other past attacks, said it was suspending operations against US forces, according to a statement carried by Iraqi media.

The statement said the group’s decision was motivated by respect for the Iraqi government’s mediation efforts as well as that of “the national religious authority”, an apparent reference to Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

“Out of our religious and national responsibility…and our respect for the decisions of the Iraqi government and the efforts of the mediator and direct orders from the influential religious authority, we announce the suspension of all military operations against the American occupation,” the Kataib Hezbollah statement said.

The decision “is a very strong start”, Iraq’s outgoing prime minister said. “I call on all parties to spare no effort to de-escalate tensions, contain incendiary rhetoric, exercise maximum restraint to deny oxygen to those who wish Iraq ill,” Mustafa al-Kadhimi said on Twitter.

US response

Prior to Kataib Hezbollah’s announcement, President Biden indicated the US was preparing a response to the attack.

“We know who did it and we will make decisions on our own timeline about how to respond appropriately,” Biden told reporters over the weekend when asked about potential retaliation.

“No one is going to get away with killing Americans who are simply trying to help the Iraqi people be independent and run their own country,” a senior Biden administration official added.

Potential US responses could have included military action against Iranian interests or cyberattacks.

With Kataib Hezbollah now saying it is standing down, the US may hold off on retaliation but tensions are still extremely high. Any small provocation by either side could still set off a dangerous escalation.

Biden spoke with the families of the soldiers killed in the attack prior to departing for the dignified transfer of remains at Dover Air Force Base.

“Jill and I shared the deepest condolences of the entire Biden family to their families and loved ones. These troops were selfless professionals willing to put themselves in harm’s way to help people they never met secure a better future for their country,” Biden said.

What comes next

It remains to be seen how long Kataib Hezbollah keeps its word and halts attacks against American forces. The group, along with other Iran-backed Shiite militias, have regularly targeted US troops in rocket attacks and drone strikes.

Given the years long tensions, most analysts expect attacks to eventually resume even if Kataib Hezbollah itself holds off for now. Smaller fringe groups may carry out sporadic attacks under the banner of retaliation for US strikes.

Ultimately, a long term easing of hostility likely depends on some sort of understanding between the US and Iran over the limits of American military action targeting militia groups in the region. However, the ENIM scale of the conflict also risks drawing in Israel, Hamas and other regional players. The US must tread carefully in plotting its next moves.

“American retaliation against Iran over the deaths of three U.S. soldiers risks further destabilising the region and playing into the hands of extremist groups”, said US Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “While Iran’s proxies must be deterred from attacking Americans, the administration must back up its words with deeds and take all reasonable steps to prevent a regional war.”

Date Event
Jan 27, 2023 Drone attack kills 3 US service members at Jordan’s Tower 22 base
Jan 29, 2023 President Biden says US has decided how to respond to attack
Jan 30, 2023 Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia announces suspension of military operations against US forces

The situation remains extremely fluid and fast moving. With armed militias operating relatively freely across borders, the risk for dangerous escalations remains high despite Kataib Hezbollah’s announced pause in attacks. Tensions between Iran and the US – and by extension its regional allies – are unlikely to ease anytime soon without concerted diplomacy efforts by all sides.

We will continue to monitor events closely and provide updates as the story develops.

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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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