The United States is preparing for strikes on Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Syria as it concluded that Iran manufactured the drone which slammed into a US base in Jordan.
Citing US officials, CBS News reported on Thursday that Washington has sanctioned plans for multi-day strikes against various targets, including Iranian personnel and facilities. CBS did not provide details on what a US approval meant in terms of a timeline for the strikes.
NBC also reported Thursday that The Biden administration hasn’t yet finalized targets, but it is preparing a “campaign” that could last “weeks.” Citing unnamed officials, NBC said the targets are expected to include Iranian targets outside Iran, and the campaign will involve both strikes and cyber operations.
The attack by Iran-backed militia forces over the weekend resulted in the death of three American service members and left more than 40 injured. Since then, the global community has been anticipating a response from the United States to the Islamic Republic.
President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that he had made up his mind on how to respond to the drone attack at the Tower 22 base in northeastern Jordan, near the Syrian border. Biden’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said on Monday the US response “could be multi-leveled, come in stages, and be sustained over time.”
Biden’s administration said it was not seeking a war with Iran, even as Republican pressure on him to respond forcefully has been rising. Iranian officials have said Tehran will respond to any threat from the United States, emphasizing that Tehran would respond decisively to any attack on its territory, its interests, or Iranian nationals outside its borders.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the IRGC, has reduced the presence of its senior officers in Syria due to a spate of deadly Israeli strikes and will rely more on its militia proxies. Also, Kataib Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian militia based in Iraq, said on Tuesday it was suspending military actions against the United States. Iran International reported last week that some in Tehran suspect an Israeli infiltration in tracking and pinpointing the whereabouts of senior IRGC officers in Syria.
Four US officials told Reuters on Thursday that the US has assessed that Iran manufactured the drone that slammed into the base. While the initial indications were that the drone was likely Iranian, a formal assessment was made only recently after recovering fragments of the drone.
Speaking at the Pentagon Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reiterated that the US will not tolerate attacks on American troops. “This is a dangerous moment in the Middle East,” Austin said, pointing to Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen on commercial shipping in the Red Sea. “We will continue to work to avoid a wider conflict in the region, but we will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our interests and our people, and we will respond when we choose, where we choose and how we choose.”
“We’re still doing the forensics,” Austin said. “But most of the drones that are in the region have a connection with Iran… How much Iran knew or didn’t know, we don’t know. But it really doesn’t matter because Iran sponsors these groups, it funds these groups, and in some cases, it trains these groups on advanced, conventional weapons.”
Marking an escalation in tensions that have engulfed the Middle East, the drone attack in Jordan was the first deadly strike against US forces since the conflict began on October 7, when Tehran-backed Hamas invaded Israel, killed 1,200 mostly civilians and took hundreds of hostages. US troops have been attacked more than 160 times in Iraq, Syria and Jordan since the events of October 7, a flareup aimed at pressuring Israel to cease its offensive in Gaza.
In the wake of the attack, several other Iran-funded groups have intensified attacks on US and Israeli targets in Iraq and Syria while the Houthis of Yemen have been attacking international shipping in the Red Sea. Iranian officials claim that the country has had no active role in the conflict, but the proxies are the brainchild of Iran’s Supreme Leader. During 2023, Khamenei met with leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah, suggesting top level coordination of the attacks which have triggered the worst violence in the region in years.