By Phil Stewart, Steve Holland and Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Three U.S. service members were killed and dozens injured in an unmanned aerial drone attack on U.S. forces stationed in northeastern Jordan near the Syrian border, officials said President. Joe Biden and U.S. officials said Sunday.
Biden blamed the attack on Iranian-backed groups, the first deadly strike against US forces since the war between Israel and Hamas erupted in October, sending shockwaves across the Middle East.
“While we are still gathering the facts about this attack, we know that it was carried out by radical Iranian-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq,” Biden said in a statement.
At least 34 personnel were being evaluated for possible head trauma, a U.S. official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. Two different officials said some injured U.S. troops were medically evacuated from the base for further treatment.
A fourth official said the drone struck near the barracks, which if confirmed could explain the high number of casualties.
This attack constitutes a major escalation of the already tense situation in the Middle East, where war broke out in Gaza after the attack by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas on Israel on October 7, which left 1,200 people dead. Israel’s subsequent attack on Gaza killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to the local Health Ministry.
While the United States has so far maintained an official line that Washington is not at war in the region, it has carried out strikes against targets of Yemen’s Houthi groups attacking commercial shipping in the Red Sea .
“We will continue their commitment to fighting terrorism. And have no doubt: We will hold all those responsible accountable when and how we choose,” Biden said in his statement released by the White House.
A senior official of the Iranian-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas, Sami Abu Zuhri, directly linked the attack to the Israeli campaign in Gaza.
“The killing of three American soldiers is a message to the American administration that unless the massacre of innocent people in Gaza stops, it must confront the entire nation,” he told Reuters.
“Continued US-Zionist aggression against Gaza is likely to cause the situation in the region to explode.”
The US military said the attack took place at a base in northeastern Jordan, near the Syrian border. The base has not been named. U.S. military activity in Jordan can be a sensitive issue, particularly at a time of heightened tensions in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
A Jordanian government spokesman told state television that the militants had targeted another base, outside Jordanian territory.
Washington has given Jordan about $1 billion to bolster its border security since Syria’s civil war began in 2011, and recently sent more military aid for that purpose, according to Western intelligence sources.
It is unclear which Iranian-backed group may have carried out the attack, but several U.S. officials have said they do not believe Iranian military forces themselves launched the one-way attack drone.
“While we are still gathering facts, this is most certainly the work of an Iranian-backed militia,” a second official said.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh, Steve Holland, Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington, DC Editing by Heather Timmons and Matthew Lewis)