Meanwhile, the DOD official and a second U.S. official told POLITICO that an hour and a half after the strike on Tower 22, Iranian proxies launched another drone at a U.S. base just across the border in Syria, al-Tanf Garrison. A U.S. drone,
RTX’s Coyote uncrewed aerial system, shot it down, the DOD official added.
Tower 22 and al-Tanf Garrison are just kilometers apart, and U.S. drones often defend both, the DOD official said.
The drone struck the living quarters at Tower 22 early in the morning on Sunday while troops were still in their beds, Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh told reporters on Monday.
The Pentagon on Monday identified the three soldiers who were killed as Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, all assigned to the 718th Engineer Company at Fort Moore, Ga.
More than 40 service members were also injured in the attack, including five who were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, Singh said. Those troops were some of the eight who were medically evacuated from the base to Baghdad diplomatic support center for additional care; three are scheduled for “imminent transport to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, for follow-on care,” she said.
Singh said the attack “has the footprints of Kataib Hezbollah,” referring to an Iran-backed militia group that the U.S. has previously blamed for attacks in Iraq and Syria. However, the Pentagon has not made a final assessment as to which group is responsible.
Singh would not comment on how the drone penetrated U.S. air defenses, but said the Pentagon is looking at how to “better define” its defenses in the region and “prevent future attacks like this from happening again.”
The Wall Street Journal was
first to report that the enemy drone approached as a U.S. drone was also returning to base, although officials quoted in that report said the simultaneous approaches created confusion.
Biden on Sunday said the U.S. “shall respond,” but the strikes continued on Monday, with Iranian proxies launching an attack at U.S. patrol base al-Shaddadi, in northeast Syria, according to the second U.S. official. Overall, U.S. troops have been attacked 165 times since Oct. 17: 66 times in Iraq; 98 in Syria; and once in Jordan, the official said.
Tower 22 is a small outpost typically housing only 300 to 350 troops, said retired Gen. Joseph Votel, who served as head of U.S. Central Command from 2016 to 2019. The base in Jordan sits close to the triple border with Syria and Iraq, and is attached to the Rukban refugee camp.
The base serves as a crossing point for U.S. special operations forces moving into Syria, and is a a logistics hub supporting the fight in Syria against the Islamic State, Votel said. U.S. training of Jordanian forces also takes place there, he said.
The living quarters at Tower 22 are “very temporary,” he said. “You would not find brick-and-mortar buildings at a location like that.”
Republican members of Congress on Sunday
called on Biden to target Iran directly in response. On Monday, former senior military officials joined in, as retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander of NATO,
proposed seizing an Iranian naval or commercial vessel.
Votel in an interview urged Biden to send an “unambiguous” message that the U.S. holds Iran responsible. Washington should consider striking assets “of value to Iran and [causing] them to pay a price for this,” he said, for instance taking out leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or Quds Force, or sites associated with those organizations.
A U.S. strike on Iranian soil “shouldn’t be off the table,” but is only one of the options that should be considered, he said.
“Iran, I think, is responsible for this,” Votel said. “Iran is always trying to push the limits as far as they can go.”
Matt Berg contributed to this report.