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Jordan drone strike kills 3 Americans

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The White House says three American service members were killed and at least 34 were wounded in a drone attack on a remote military base in Jordan, near the Syrian border. An Iranian-backed militia group has claimed responsibility, and this comes as several Iranian-backed groups have gotten involved in the conflict with Israel in recent months, including the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is here with the latest. Hey, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: So where did this attack happen, and what details do we have at this point?

BOWMAN: Well, Pentagon officials say the attack occurred in northeast Jordan, right up next to the border with Syria. It's a support base called Tower 22, and it looks like an attack drone hit a living quarter. So the U.S. is saying, again, three dead, and now we know 34 wounded. I'm told many of them have traumatic brain injuries or concussions. Now, two were seriously wounded, one with a spinal injury, another with shrapnel wounds. And these numbers are likely to change.

Now, an umbrella group of Iranian-backed militias, known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, has claimed responsibility. And, of course, there have been more than 140 attacks by these militias against U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria since last fall. But these are the first deaths, Scott. And there was one American service member seriously wounded a few weeks back by an attack in northern Iraq. He took some shrapnel to his head and was sent back to the U.S. for treatment. But again, these are the first Americans killed.

DETROW: You said Tower 22, this base, is a support base. What exactly is it supporting in Jordan?

BOWMAN: It supports a base inside Syria called Al-Tanf just a few miles from the Jordanian border. That's where U.S. special operators and some from other countries have been stationed for years now. They were part of the effort to train Syrian opposition forces against the Islamic State to launch counter-ISIS operations. And it also sits on the highway linking Baghdad with Damascus, and U.S. forces keep an eye on Iranian supplies heading into Syria to support the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Now, that Al-Tanf base has come under a number of drone attacks as well from these militia groups, but they've pretty much all been shot down. But back in November, a service member from a partner nation suffered a minor injury from a drone attack.

DETROW: So these attacks have been happening. But this is, as you said, the first deaths. And that's obviously very significant. We know the Biden administration does not want the war to expand, but what happens now?

BOWMAN: Well, you know, it's hard to say. This appears to be the most U.S. casualties in Iraq since at least 2011, when five U.S. soldiers were killed by insurgent forces. The U.S. has stepped up attacks in Iraq in response to the recent militia attacks, you know, striking missile sites and facilities, trying to avoid casualties and, again, being careful not to widen the war into a regional conflict. But there are calls now for tougher a stance, especially from some Republicans. Already, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on armed services, said, quote, "we must respond to these repeated attacks by Iran and its proxies" - get this - "by striking directly against Iranian targets and its leadership."

DETROW: Yeah. And that would - yep.

BOWMAN: And of course, President Biden, for his part, simply said, we shall respond.

DETROW: He said that in a statement this morning, again, speaking to reporters earlier this afternoon. We will see when that response takes place. That's NPR's Tom Bowman. Thank you so much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.