The attacks marks a significant escalation of tensions in the growing Middle East conflict and represents the first US military casualties since Hamas launched a terror attack on southern Israel on 7 October, prompting a ground offensive into Gaza by the Israeli armed forces which Washington has supported.
US officials say at least 34 service members were being evaluated for possible traumatic brain injury after the drone strike on Tower 22 near the Syrian border, with several of the wounded transported to separate military facilities for care.
An Iran-backed militia group known as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq has claimed responsibility for three simultaneous drone attacks on US forces, including the deadly Tower 22 assault. A statement released by the group threatened more attacks “if the US keeps supporting Israel”. “All the US interests in the region are legitimate targets and we don’t care about US threats to respond, we know the direction we are taking and martyrdom is our prize,” it said.
But Iran’s mission to the United Nations sought to distance Tehran from the attack. “Iran had no connection and had nothing to do with the attack on the US base,” a statement read. Published by the state news agency IRNA, it added: “There is a conflict between US forces and resistance groups in the region, which reciprocate retaliatory attacks.”
The Pentagon is set to announce the identities of those killed later on Monday, saying the information was being withheld for 24 hours so that their next of kin can be notified.
The service members’ deaths increase domestic pressure on president Joe Biden over US involvement in the Middle East conflict, which has included bombing Houthi rebel targets in Yemen to protect international shipping through the Red Sea. The Houthis said they were targeting Israeli ships in solidarity with the Palestinians, and have now extended their missile strikes to include American and British vessels as well.
Donald Trump, the likely Republican party nominee for this year’s presidential election, issued a statement blaming the Biden administration for the growing conflict and claiming that, if he was president, “[we] would right now have peace throughout the world”.
“Instead, we are on the brink of World War 3,” Mr Trump said.
Speaking at a campaign event in South Carolina on Sunday night, Mr Biden pledged “we shall respond” to the attack, adding that this would happen “at a time and in a manner of our choosing”.
“Today, America’s heart is heavy,” the president said in a statement. “We know it was carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq.
“These service members embodied the very best of our nation: unwavering in their bravery. Unflinching in their duty. Unbending in their commitment to our country – risking their own safety for the safety of their fellow Americans, and our allies and partners with whom we stand in the fight against terrorism.”
Jordanian officials say the attack occurred on Syrian territory at the Al-Tanf base.
Speaking to public broadcaster Al-Mamlaka television, Jordanian government spokesperson Muhannad Al Mubaidin denied that the dead and injured US troops had been stationed in their country, Reuters reported.
Britain has been involved in multiple joint strikes against the Houthis in Yemen, who are supported by Iran, since their activities began targeting Red Sea shipping.
Prime minister Rishi Sunak said he was “concerned” about the rising tensions in the regional conflict and urged Iran to de-escalate after Sunday’s strike.
“We are concerned and would urge Iran to continue to de-escalate tensions in the region,” he told broadcasters on Monday.
“We stand resolutely with our allies to bring stability and peace to the region and that’s what we continue to work towards.”
Earlier David Cameron, the UK foreign secretary, said Britain “strongly condemns attacks by Iran-aligned militia groups against US forces”.