US confronts dangers from ‘not very good’ Iran-backed militants

2024.02.09 08:11

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown and Sergeant Major Troy E. Black attend the dignified switch of the stays of Army Reserve Sergeants William Rivers, Kennedy Sanders and Breonna Moffett, three U.S. service membe

By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – More than a month earlier than a lethal drone strike that killed three U.S. troopers in Jordan, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sought to reassure U.S. troops concerning the navy’s capacity to face up to assaults by Iran-backed militants.

Austin, in beforehand unpublished remarks to sailors aboard the Gerald R. Ford (NYSE:) plane service on Dec. 20, mentioned the primary motive the militants had didn’t that time was that “they’re not very good at what they do.”

“Every day, Iranian proxies are shooting at our troops that are in Iraq and Syria. They haven’t been effective at all because (of) two reasons: Number one, they’re not very good at what they do,” Austin informed the crew.

“But number two, we’ve done a lot of things to ensure that we have the adequate force protection … Eventually, as we all know, they may get lucky one day and cause injury to one of our troops. But we will stay on the balls of our feet and make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

In the wake of the drone assault, President Joe Biden’s administration is vowing to do no matter it takes to guard U.S. troops from an escalating cycle of violence within the Middle East, the place Iran-aligned militants are firing at them in Iraq, Syria, Jordan and off the coast of Yemen within the Red Sea.

But present and former U.S. officers inform Reuters the militants’ periodic success in assaults could also be unavoidable, given the sheer variety of drones, rockets and missiles fired at U.S. troops and the truth that base defenses can not realistically be fully efficient 100% of the time.

Experts additionally warning in opposition to underestimating the Iran-backed militants, even when most of their assaults fail.

Charles Lister of the Washington-based Middle East Institute recalled former President Barack Obama’s description of Islamic State as a junior varsity group in 2014 even because the group was gathering energy.

“To suggest, Obama-style, that ‘well, they’re just a J.V. team’ and we can chuckle along and take the hits and know that nothing serious is happening is just profoundly naive,” Lister mentioned. “These groups have conducted sophisticated transnational strikes, and they have a very deadly history against American troops.”

Still, U.S. commanders have a protracted historical past of placing on a courageous face earlier than their troops. Austin is a retired 4 star common who served on the bottom in Iraq, himself coming below hearth.

Asked for remark, Pentagon spokesperson Major General Patrick Ryder mentioned Austin was outraged and deeply saddened by the troopers’ deaths in Jordan and had “no higher priority than protecting our forces and taking care of our people.”


As of Feb. 7, there have been greater than 168 assaults in opposition to U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria and Jordan since Middle East tensions surged in October with the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas struggle. That has brought about accidents amongst 143 U.S. service members, with two sustaining very severe accidents and 9 struggling severe accidents.

The worst assault occurred on Jan. 28, when a drone slammed right into a U.S. base known as Tower 22 on Jordan’s border with Syria, killing Sergeant William Jerome Rivers, Specialist Kennedy Ladon Sanders and Specialist Breonna Alexsondria Moffett.

One senior U.S. navy official, talking on situation of anonymity, known as that assault “tragic, unlucky – but predictable.”

“Because that’s the nature of combat. It’s not an antiseptic environment where you can attain perfection” in defending your self, the previous official mentioned.

General Daniel Hokanson, the pinnacle of the U.S. National Guard, which had troops stationed at Tower 22 who had been wounded, informed reporters on Thursday that the navy works exhausting to make sure troops have defenses to drive down the danger.

“Sadly, no system is 100% successful in anything,” Hokanson mentioned.


While a U.S. navy investigation continues, U.S. officers have informed Reuters a number of elements could have contributed to the failure of American defenses on the distant base in Jordan.

Most notable, they are saying, was the low altitude that the drone was flying because it approached Tower 22.

But officers say it doesn’t seem the militants did something significantly subtle that Sunday morning, like deliberately timing the method of the drone to coincide with the arrival of an American drone to confuse U.S. defenses.

Instead, some U.S. officers have concluded that the success of the Jan. 28 strike got here right down to likelihood – throw sufficient munitions at well-defended targets and finally some will get by means of.

The militant strike – which the Pentagon says had the “footprints” of the Iraq-based Kataib Hezbollah – has led to a wave of U.S. retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and militias it backs. That features a drone strike in Baghdad on Wednesday that killed a commander of Kataib Hezbollah.

Ryder, the Pentagon spokesperson, informed Reuters the U.S. navy continued to “take necessary steps to safeguard our forces who serve in harm’s way, and continuously reevaluate our force protection measures.” He didn’t provide particulars on any changes to U.S. defenses, citing operational safety.

Critics of the Biden administration’s method warning that the retaliatory strikes don’t quantity to sufficient strain on Tehran, which helps these teams and, some present and former officers consider, may instruct them to cease. Some Republicans in Congress have pushed for U.S. strikes on Iranian forces, together with on Iranian soil, which the Biden administration has resisted over fears of drawing Iran immediately right into a broader struggle.

“Iran can stop these attacks if they want to,” the previous U.S. navy official mentioned.

But, the official added: “Why should they? They’re not being hurt by our response.”

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