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Middle East and Northern Africa

U.S. Response to Iran-Backed Drone Strike


On January 28th, 2024, a drone strike was carried out by an Iran-backed militia. The target was a logistics outpost in northeast Jordan called Tower 22. Several U.S. service members were deployed there at the time, working alongside local Syrians to fight against remnants of the Islamic State.

The attack on Tower 22 was not an uncommon occurrence, for there had been more than 100 attacks against U.S. bases since Hamas’ October 7th attack. Yet there was something different about this particular drone strike: this attack was fatal. Three U.S. service members were killed, while at least 40 others were injured. This was the first time that American blood had been shed in Israel’s war with Hamas.

The Axis of Resistance, a group of Iran-backed militias, claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying that it was an attempt to combat American involvement in the region. While Iran never took direct responsibility for the actions of Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, or the Houthis, it was known that they were involved with such groups.

In an attempt to avoid direct affiliation with these militias, Iran has employed a strategy known as plausible deniability. Under this denial of involvement, they are trying to carefully remain or appear impartial in the conflict. This disguise has not been completely effective. They have been able to apply pressure without consequences for some time, yet the January 28th strike was enough to call the attention of many.

Before February 2nd, there was tension on both sides due to prior attacks, but the U.S. had taken little retaliatory action. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, pronounced that Iran was not searching for a war with the U.S., but that they would be prepared to enter war if the latter decided to stage an attack. These statements were echoed by General Hossein Salami, chief of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. He boldly asserted that Iran “will not leave any threat  unanswered.” He too claims that Iran is not seeking war, but that they are “neither afraid nor  running away from war.”

These statements and attacks prompted a U.S. response. The retaliation was first manifested in words, which were then backed by deeds. It appears that the U.S., like Iran, wanted to avoid further conflict. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., reasoned that the U.S. does not “want to go down a path of greater escalation that  drives to a much broader conflict within the region.” Even wanting to avoid conflict, U.S. leaders believed that Iran had taken things one step too far and changed their stance when these service members were killed. After the attack, Lloyd J. Austin III, the U.S. Defense Secretary, contended that he would “not tolerate attacks on American forces,” and that the U.S. will “take  all necessary actions to defend the United States, our troops and our interests.”

President Biden has been pressured by many passionate U.S. citizens to strike back. Americans are furious with the shedding of American blood by this Iran-backed militia. With such demands from his own country, as well as the threats from Iranian leaders, President Biden was forced to make a decision which he reached only a few days after the January 28th drone strike. President Biden, who had previously promised to expound on the U.S. stance, vowed that the U.S. would retaliate.

This vow was realized on February 2nd, when several U.S. military strikes were carried out against multiple sites in Syria and Iraq. These sites included intelligence centers, weapons facilities, and bunkers of the Quds Force, which is a branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that focuses on military intelligence and unconventional warfare. Owing to their support of non-state armed groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis, the Quds Force

was a logical target of the U.S. response. If these strategic attacks are continued, the Quds Force will be crippled and their support for non-state militias will be diminished. The capability of the militias to harm American troops will also lessen as the U.S. strikes additional valuable strategic bases.

When asked about the attacks, President Biden made it clear that the U.S. will proceed. This specific retaliation was only the beginning of the U.S. response to Iranian hostilities. President Biden explained that a “tiered approach” will be taken as strikes “will  continue at times and places of our choosing.” In doing so, the military hopes to send a message to Iran that continued hostilities will not be tolerated.

By making vague statements about continual U.S. involvement, President Biden and the U.S military aim to cultivate an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among Iran and Iran-backed militias. This is illustrated by the response of Iran-backed militia leaders to the U.S. retaliation: several militia leaders have gone into hiding or have returned to Iran. With the constant, looming threat of additional U.S. attacks, Iran-backed militias will be hesitant and cautious to strike again.