Lawmakers to Pentagon: Do a better job shooting down drones

The Pentagon is still investigating why the defenses at a U.S. military outpost on the Jordan-Syria border, known as Tower 22, did not shoot down the drone, though lawmakers said the administration has an initial understanding of what happened.

“I think this was a learning experience,” House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said. “I mean, they want to try to do better and they made that clear.”

POLITICO reported the enemy drone in the Jordan attack
was able to evade detection
by approaching as a U.S. drone was also returning to the base.

“We need to look at things like what kind of hardening do we have in our facilities,” added Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.). “A frustration the committee’s aired very publicly is why the Pentagon has been so slow to acquire counter-drone technology if you’re suffering nearly 200 attacks in the last three years.”

The attack was a major escalation and marks the first time American military personnel have been killed since Oct. 7, when Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis. Since then, Iran-backed groups have launched hundreds of attacks against U.S. outposts in Iraq and Syria and lobbed missiles and drones at freighters in the Red Sea.

The panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, argued the Pentagon must “significantly” improve counter-drone weapons for troops.

“I have confidence in U.S. air defense systems. They just have a lot to try to capture,” Smith said. “The drones are difficult. There are a lot of different places that the attacks could come from, and we have a number of targets to protect.”

New “directed energy” technologies the Pentagon is testing that can cheaply zap drones with microwaves or lasers need to be fielded, Smith said.

“They need to go from promising to deployed quickly,” he added.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said he left the briefing with unanswered questions about whether the air defenses at the outpost failed.

“I would like to understand whether this was a case of mistaken drone identity; I want to know if all of our air defenses are fully functional,” Gaetz said. “Was it a human error in tracking what was incoming, was it a software error.”

Though lawmakers weren’t satisfied with the answers to their questions on the briefing, Rogers said Pentagon officials committed to return to brief the panel again on the results of their investigation.

“We want to know more details about the day and the sequencing of events on the attack on Tower 22,” Rogers said. “They’re doing an investigation and will get back with us later on those details.”

Gallego likened the push for answers on the attack to the oversight of a 2017 ambush in Niger that resulted in the deaths of four U.S. troops.

“What I really want to see is a real hearing on what happened here, kind of like what we saw with the Niger ambush. … This was not a very thorough briefing,” Gallego added. “The assessment’s still going on. I think it was they were caught so much by surprise that they still are trying to put all the pieces together.”

Several lawmakers said Pentagon officials did not elaborate on military options that are being considered to respond to the attack. President Joe Biden on Tuesday
said he’s already decided how he’ll respond
, but his answer to the violence by Iranian proxies risks deepening the conflict in the Middle East.

Congress is divided over how Biden should respond to the attack over the weekend.

Republicans argue Biden has fallen far short in taking military action to deter Iran and force its proxies to stand down in the region. Some have argued for responding to the attack in Jordan by directly striking targets inside Iran, though many argue there’s room for a harsher response that stops short of that.

“When it comes to the protection of our men and women deployed overseas, all options should always be on the table,” Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) said after the briefing.

Rogers and Smith both said Biden should consider hitting military targets in Iranian territory. For Smith, this marks a split with most Democrats, who still contend that striking Iran directly would escalate and expand the regional conflict, something Biden has said he wants to avoid.

“President Biden hasn’t asked my opinion yet, but I think they should,” Rogers said of whether the administration should consider striking inside Iran.