What we know about the drone attack on US troops in Jordan

US president Joe Biden has vowed to ‘respond’ to the fatal attack on Tower 22 and has blamed Iran.

Satellite view of the U.S. military outpost known as Tower 22, in Rukban, Rwaished District, Jordan October 12, 2023 in this handout image. Planet Labs PBC/Handout via REUTERS
A satellite view of Tower 22, which houses a small number of US troops. (Reuters)

Three US Army soldiers were killed and at least 34 others wounded in an overnight drone attack on a military base in Jordan.

The strike on the base, near Jordan's northeastern border, marks the first fatal attack on US forces since the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza began on 7 October.

Since the conflict began, US forces have come under attack more than 150 times by Iran-backed military groups in Iraq and Syria, but this is the first time they have been targeted in Jordan. US president Joe Biden has vowed to "respond" to the attack, as he faces political pressure at home to strike Iran.

Tehran has said it had "no connection and had nothing to do" with the attack, but the White House is unlikely to accept this. Former CIA director John Brennan described the attack as a “dangerous escalation” in the Middle East.

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What we know

In the early hours of Sunday morning, a "suicide drone" – designed to fly into its target and explode – hit the logistics support base known as Tower 22 in Rukban, Rwaished District.

The base is in Jordan's most northeastern corner between Syria and Iraq, meaning it is in a strategically important location for the US. Three US service members were killed, and 34 were injured.

US Central Command warned the number of casualties could rise as those wounded are assessed for traumatic brain injury. Eight personnel members were evacuated from Jordan for higher level care, but are in stable condition.

Tower 22 Google Maps
Tower 22's proximity to both Syria and Iraq means it is in a strategically important location. (Google Maps)

US officials claimed the drone was operated by Iran-backed militants and appeared to have come from Syria. "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 a statement. He added: "Have no doubt - we will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner of our choosing."

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella organisation of hardline Iran-backed militant groups, claimed attacks on three bases, including one on the Jordan-Syria border. The Tower 22 attack is being reported as the first deadly aerial attack on US ground forces since the 1950-53 Korean war.

What we don't know

The US is yet to reveal the identity of the three soldiers who were killed, for whom Biden asked for a moment of silence during a campaign event in South Carolina, as he vowed: "We shall respond."

Islamic Resistance in Iraq is a loose coalition of Iran-backed factions, meaning Washington is still working to identify the specific group responsible. While the US has maintained it is not at war in the region, it has been retaliating against Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria and carrying out strikes against Yemen's Houthi fighters.

Watch: Rishi Sunak urges Iran to 'deescalate tensions in the region' after fatal attack on US soldiers

In a statement on Monday, Iran's mission to the United Nations said: "Iran had no connection and had nothing to do with the attack on the base. There is a conflict between US forces and resistance groups in the region, which reciprocate retaliatory attacks."

This has failed to convince Washington, with Republicans in Congress calling on a forceful response. Writing on X (formerly Twitter), senator Lindsey Grahams said: “Hit Iran now. Hit them hard.”

Former intelligence officer Jonathan Panikoff, now part of the Atlantic Council think tank said it is clear "this will not be the last attack on US forces".

He added: "Syrian and Iraq-based Shia militants are largely responsive to Tehran and would be unlikely to carry out such an attack without at least the implicit support and approval of senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leaders."