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The American army failed to stop the enemy drone which killed three of its soldiers after confusing it with an American drone which was approaching at the same time a base near the Jordanian border with Syria, a US official said.
The preliminary assessment was disclosed as the United States considers its response to this weekend’s attack, the first to kill American troops since the war between Israel and Hamas that began on July 7. October and which sparked a wave of attacks by Iran-aligned groups against the United States. forces in the region.
The U.S. military was still trying to better understand the incident and how the one-way attack drone could have caused so many casualties, officials said.
“We are trying to understand how a one-way attack drone was able to evade our defenses,” Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said.
Sunday’s attack, which U.S. defense officials said also injured at least 40 service members, hit the Tower 22 outpost near the Jordan-Syria border, which houses 350 U.S. military personnel part of the coalition against IS. The drone struck early in the morning in an area where military personnel live and sleep, which partly explains why the casualty rate is so high, officials said.
The United States has about 2,500 troops in Iraq and about 900 in Syria, where they are deployed to prevent a resurgence of the jihadist group.
President Joe Biden was “evaluating the options available to him,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday. The president met with his top advisers on Sunday and Monday to discuss Washington’s response to the attack.
U.S. officials said they were still assessing who was responsible for the drone attack, but saw links to the Iraq-based and Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia.
“There are traces of Kataib Hezbollah, but we are not making a final assessment on that – our teams here are still doing the analysis,” Singh said.
Biden had also blamed Iranian-backed militias, but Kirby stressed that the United States was not seeking to “escalate” the conflict in the Middle East, nor to “wage war” with Iran.
Kirby did not comment on the timing or nature of the U.S. response, but said the administration was “fully aware that these Tehran-backed groups have just killed American soldiers.”
Iran has sought to distance itself from the deadly attack as it and the United States appear keen to avoid further escalation. Iran’s Foreign Ministry has called any accusation that it was involved in the deaths of American troops a “baseless” conspiracy by those “interested in dragging the United States into a new conflict in the region to intensify the crisis “.
But Singh said Monday that “Iran bears responsibility because it is funding these groups in Iraq and Syria that are launching attacks against our military.”
The United States has struck targets linked to Iranian-backed militias in the region following 165 militant attacks on American troops in Iraq, Syria and Jordan since October, as well as more than 30 strikes against international ships in the Red Sea.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington would “take whatever action is necessary to defend the United States and our troops.” U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq have been the target of repeated attacks by a newly created group of Iranian-backed Iraqi militias known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, which has said he was retaliating against Washington’s support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.
Additional reports by Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran and Raya Jalabi