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The above combination of photos provided by Shawn Sanders, left, and the U.S. Army, center and right, show from left to right, Spc. Kennedy Sanders, Sgt. William Jerome Rivers and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett. The three U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from Georgia were killed by a drone strike Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, on their base in Jordan near the Syrian border.

A mix-up at a U.S. base in Jordan may have allowed an exploding drone to elude defenses, killing three soldiers and injuring at least 40 early Sunday in an attack American and NATO officials are blaming on Iran.

The hostile drone apparently was mistaken for a U.S. drone that was in the area at the same time, letting it get through and detonate, according to initial assessments cited Monday by two U.S. officials who spoke to USA TODAY.

The officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly, stressed that the information was preliminary. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said he couldn’t confirm the report.

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Top U.S. and NATO officials dismissed Iran’s claims that it had no role in the deadly assault, which threatened to fuel expansion of the Israeli-Hamas war.

“Let me start with my outrage and sorrow for the death of three brave U.S. troops in Jordan and for the other troops who were wounded,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a Monday briefing with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “The president and I will not tolerate attacks on U.S. forces, and we will take all necessary actions to defend the U.S. and our troops.”

Stoltenberg said Iran was behind the attack in Jordan and those by Yemen-based Houthi militants on ships in the region, adding that “the U.S. is leading international efforts to end these attacks.”

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of militias supported by Iran, claimed responsibility for the attack in Jordan. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said militant groups in the region do not take orders from Tehran and that Iran “does not welcome the expansion of conflicts in the region.”

President Joe Biden has also blamed Iran, pledging to “hold all those responsible to account.” Kanaani said U.S. strikes on militant groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen “escalate the cycle of instability.”

Maps show drone strike against US forces in Jordan was latest in more than 150 attacks

Developments:

∎ Rockets apparently fired from Gaza caused air raid sirens to wail in Tel Aviv for the first time since December despite the Israeli military’s efforts to neutralize Hamas in Gaza.

∎ Ten Palestinians were killed in a strike that hit a residential building in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, said Dr. Moataz Harara, a physician at Shifa Hospital.

∎ A senior Jordanian security source told Reuters that Jordan had sought more advanced U.S. defense equipment and support amid worries Iran and its proxies could conduct a strike.

War and politics:Joe Biden faces campaign pressure over drone deaths and response to Iran

Total of injured troops from Jordan attack rises to 40
Iran was behind Sunday’s attack in Jordan because it arms, trains and funds the militants who launched it, deputy Pentagon Press secretary Sabrina Singh said Monday.

The number of U.S. troops wounded in the attack has risen to 40 and may increase as troops continue to report symptoms of traumatic brain injury, she said. Three of the wounded will soon be taken to the military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for a higher level of care.

The Army identified the three soldiers killed as Sgt. William Rivers, 46, of Carrollton, Ga.; Spc. Kennedy Sanders, 24, of Waycross, Ga.; and Spc. Breonna Moffett, 23, of Savannah, Ga. The one-way attack drone struck their housing units, according to the Army.

There have been 165 attacks on bases in the Middle East where U.S. troops are stationed, Singh said, including 98 in Syria, 66 in Iraq and the one in Jordan. They have wounded about 120 U.S. troops. Most of the injuries have been minor and the service members have returned to duty.

Central Command said about 350 U.S. Army and Air Force personnel were deployed to the base that was attacked Sunday.

Attacks against US by Iranian proxies ‘likely to continue’
As they weigh options for how to respond to Sunday’s attack in Jordan, Biden administration officials may find few of them other than direct confrontation would convince Iran to discourage assaults from groups hostile to the U.S. in the Middle East.

David Silbey, an associate professor of history at Cornell University who specializes in military history and defense policy, said Iran has little incentive to deviate from its strategy of supporting those proxies.

“There are plenty of Iranian-supported forces in Iraq and Syria that could be hit as a way of retaliating,’’ Silbey said. “One other possibility would be to hit Iranian oil-processing facilities in the Persian Gulf. That’s not quite as escalatory as, for example, bombing Tehran. The problem is that none of this would really deter the Iranians all that much.’’

Silbey describes Iran as a revisionist power in the region trying to knock off the U.S. from its spot as the current power, so the Iranians benefit from militants like the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, among others, doing their dirty work against the U.S. and its allies.

“They don’t want a full-scale war with the United States,’’ he said of the Iranians, “and so mounting an attack with clearly identifiable Iranian forces is probably off the table, but further proxy attacks are likely to continue.”

Pentagon seeks counter to ’emerging threat’ of one-way drones
Regardless of who’s to blame for the assault on the U.S. base in Jordan, the facility − known as Tower 22 − has become a frequent target. This was the third time it got attacked in the last six months.

Attacks using one-way drones such as the one that exploded Sunday near living quarters at the logistics base are highlighting a weakness in American defenses the Pentagon is trying to address.

These types of drones don’t require an operator after launching, since they’re programmed to hit a target. They have become an “emerging threat,” the Army has said, prompting the Pentagon to hold tests for weapons to destroy them during a July event in Arizona.

Netanyahu denies reports of a hostage deal
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied reports in Israeli media that a cease-fire deal had been struck and that the widely reported proposal includes conditions that are not acceptable to Israel. Channel 12 in Israel was among outlets reporting Israel had agreed to a 45-day pause in fighting in exchange for 35 hostages in what would be a first phase. Up to 250 Palestinian security prisoners would be released for each Israeli sent home, according to the report.

NBC News, citing a source familiar with the talks, reported that negotiators from Israel, the U.S., Egypt and Qatar have agreed on a “framework” for a deal but had no details.

Hamas falsely claims civilian deaths on Oct. 7 ‘happened accidentally’
Despite overwhelming evidence its forces killed hundreds of people, mostly civilians, in the Oct. 7 attacks, Hamas said in a social media post that avoiding harm to civilians, especially children, women and elderly people, is a religious and moral commitment made by all the Al-Qassam Brigades’ fighters.

“In addition, if there was any case of targeting civilians, it happened accidentally,” the statement from the Hamas military wing falsely claimed.

Israel says the surprise attacks that started the war killed 1,200 people. More than 240 were taken hostage, although a little over 100 of them were released during a weeklong November cease-fire.

The attack prompted an Israeli military invasion of Gaza, where authorities say more than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed. Israel does not dispute the numbers but says it has killed more than 9,000 militants. Israel blames the civilian deaths on a Hamas practice of embedding it forces in civilian buildings and neighborhoods.

Deadly attack on Jordan base reflects risk US troops face
Biden’s vow to swiftly respond to the weekend’s drone attack that killed three U.S. troops highlights more than just the harsh reality that violence has spread across the Middle East amid the war in Gaza. It also spotlights the risks faced by the more than 40,000 U.S. troops deployed at multiple Middle East locations, as well as in many more parts of the world than Americans may know about.

Biden accused “radical Iran-backed militants” in Iraq and Syria for Sunday’s attack on Tower 22, a U.S. military outpost in Jordan near the border with Syria.

Benjamin Friedman, policy director of the Washington, D.C.-based Defense Priorities think tank, says the soldiers who were killed and wounded should not have been there in the first place.

“The militia that killed U.S. forces should be held accountable. But we should ask why U.S. forces in the area were left in range of repeated drone, missile and rocket attacks,” he said. “What cause justified this predictable danger? The answer is none. The U.S. government put them in harm’s way in service of a murky and pointless mission.” Read more here.

− Kim Hjelmgaard

Israel cancels meetings with UN relief agency as controversy grows
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz canceled meetings between ministry officials and Philippe Lazzarini, embattled chief of the U.N. relief agency for Palestinians − UNRWA − as the controversy surrounding the organization continued to grow. Katz tweeted that Lazzarini “should draw conclusions and resign. Supporters of terrorism are not welcome here.”

The U.S. is among several nations that paused financial support for UNRWA in recent days after a dozen staffers were accused of participating in the Oct. 7 Hamas raid on Israel. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed that the agency has thousands of staffers and that of the 12, nine have been fired, one is dead and two others had not been identified. UNRWA provides lifesaving support to Palestinians in Gaza, and Guterres urged leaders around the world to resume funding, citing the “dire needs of the desperate populations” served by the agency.

Israel has long been at odds with UNRWA, claiming almost 200 employees are members of militant groups. The Israeli government has accused Hamas and other militant groups of siphoning off aid and using U.N. facilities for military purposes.

Iran-backed militias prepare for retaliation
Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria are evacuating their posts in preparation for a retaliatory strike, a source from the Islamic Resistance in Iraq told Qatari-based al-Araby al-Jadeed. The militant group has evacuated its positions along the Iraq-Syria border, leaving only one or two guards to man each post, the official said. Biden has vowed to take retaliatory measures, but it was not clear when or where.

GOP presidential hopefuls Trump, Haley blame Biden for attack on soldiers
Republicans, led by their presidential candidates, didn’t waste much time Sunday putting campaign pressure on Biden over the Middle East drone attacks that killed three U.S. service members. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, challenger Nikki Haley and several prominent GOP lawmakers blamed Biden’s policy for the attack, and demanded that he retaliate against Iran, the alleged sponsor of the incident.

“This brazen attack on the United States is yet another horrific and tragic consequence of Joe Biden’s weakness and surrender,” Trump said.

Haley, a former United Nations ambassador, said militants “would not be attacking our troops if Joe Biden weren’t so weak in his treatment of Iran.”

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