The U.S. said Iranian-backed militants killed three service members and wounded 25 others in a drone attack near the Syrian border, the first American deaths under enemy attack since Israel and Hamas went to war.
President Joe Biden vowed retaliation, saying in a statement that “we will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner our choosing.” The administration believes a stronger response is warranted than with previous attacks in which Americans were not killed, according to a person familiar with U.S. deliberations.
“We shall respond,” Biden said later Sunday at a campaign event in Columbia, South Carolina.
The attack, which struck U.S. forces stationed in northeast Jordan, heightens U.S.-Iranian tension and prompted calls by some Republican lawmakers for Biden to launch strikes on Iran — a level of escalation the U.S. has said it’s intent on avoiding.
“We must respond to these repeated attacks by Iran and its proxies by striking directly against Iranian targets and its leadership,” Roger Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. “The Biden administration’s responses thus far have only invited more attacks.”
Senator Jack Reed, the committee’s Democratic chairman, said he’s “confident the Biden Administration will respond in a deliberate and proportional manner.”
Risks of a direct confrontation have increased since the attack by Iran-backed Hamas militants on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s subsequent military incursion into the Gaza Strip.
“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,” Biden said in the statement. The U.S. Central Command said 25 US service members were injured in what it described as a “one-way attack.”
An umbrella group for Iran-backed militants called The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack, the Washington Post reported, citing an official with the group whom it didn’t identify.
Biden said U.S. forces stationed near the Syrian border came under an unmanned aerial drone attack. About 3,500 U.S. troops are stationed in Jordan.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the attack targeted U.S. and allied forces deployed to northeastern Jordan to defeat Islamic State. Austin said he and Biden “will not tolerate attacks on American forces, and we will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our troops, and our interests.”
Iran-backed Houthi militants have been striking ships delivering goods via the Red Sea for weeks. The U.S. and U.K. have reciprocated the attacks, which prompted the Houthis to say last week that the actions would “not go without any response or punishment.”
The U.S. also has said its military personnel in Iraq and Syria have come under attack dozens of times since October, some suffering traumatic brain injuries.
Two Navy SEALs were presumed to be dead last week after they went missing during a seizure of Iranian weapons intended for Houthis on Jan. 11.
Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Iranian proxies have carried out more than 150 attacks on US troops since October.
“We need a major reset of our Middle East policy to protect our national security interests and restore deterrence,” the Texas Republican said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the US must impose “serious, crippling costs — not only on front-line terrorist proxies, but on their Iranian sponsors who wear American blood as a badge of honor.” House Speaker Mike Johnson called for a “crystal clear message across the globe that attacks on our troops will not be tolerated.”
Biden, who was in South Carolina campaigning for reelection, was briefed Sunday morning on the attack by senior aides including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, a U.S. official said.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican foreign-policy hawk, renewed calls for a stronger U.S. response.
“Hit Iran now,” he said in a statement. “Hit them hard.”
(With assistance from Michelle Jamrisko, Paul Wallace, Roxana Tiron and Peter Martin.)
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