By Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press on January 29, 2024.
WASHINGTON (AP) – An enemy drone that killed three American troops and wounded dozens of others in Jordan may have been confused with an American drone returning to the U.S. installation, two U.S. officials said Monday.
The officials, who were not authorized to comment and insisted on anonymity, said the preliminary accounts suggest the enemy drone that struck the installation known as Tower 22 may have been mistaken for an American drone that was in the air at the same time.
The officials said that as the enemy drone was flying in at a low altitude, a U.S. drone was returning to the base. As a result, there was no effort to shoot down the enemy drone.
Explanation for how the enemy drone evaded U.S. air defenses on the installation came as the White House said Monday it’s not looking for war with Iran even as President Joe Biden vows retaliatory action. The Democratic administration believes Tehran was behind the strike.
The brazen attack, which the Biden administration blames on Iranian-based proxies, adds another layer of complexity to an already tense Mideast situation as the Biden administration tries to keep the Israel-Hamas war from expanding into a broader regional conflict.
“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,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday as he met at the Pentagon with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Biden faces a difficult balancing act as he looks to strike back against Tehran in a forceful way without allowing the Gaza conflict to further metastasize. The drone attack was one of dozens on U.S. troops in the Middle East since Hamas launched attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, spurring the war in Gaza. But it’s the first in which American service members have been killed.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby reiterated a day after Biden promised to “hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner (of) our choosing” that the U.S. administration wasn’t seeking to get into another conflict in the Middle East.
But Kirby also made clear that the American patience has worn thin after more than two months of attacks by Iranian proxies on U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria and Jordan and on the U.S. Navy and commercial vessels in the Red Sea. The groups – including Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Iraq based Kataeb Hezbollah – say the attacks are in response to Israel’s ongoing to military operations in Gaza.
“We are not looking for a war with Iran,” Kirby told NBC’s “Today” show. “We are not looking to escalate the conflict in the region. “¦ Obviously, these attacks keep coming. We’ll keep looking at the options. I can’t speak for the supreme leader or what he wants or he doesn’t want. I can tell you what we want. What we want is a stable, secure, prosperous Middle East, and we want these attacks to stop.”
Iran on Monday denied it was behind the Jordan strike.
“These claims are made with specific political goals to reverse the realities of the region,” Tehran’s official IRNA news agency quoted foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani as saying.