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President Biden vows to respond to the deadly drone attack in Jordan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's what the United States does and does not want to do after an attack in the Middle East.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

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The U.S. does want to respond to a drone attack that killed three U.S. soldiers. It does not want flare-ups in the Middle East to grow into a low-level regional war. The U.S. blames a group backed by Iran. Iran, in turn, has been supporting Hamas in its war against Israel.

INSKEEP: Pretty complicated, but NPR's Jane Arraf has been following it all from Jordan, which is the country where this attack took place, we are told. Hey there, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Well, what exactly happened?

ARRAF: Well, according to the Pentagon, an explosive drone struck a support base on the Jordanian side of its border with Syria, killing three service people and wounding at least 34 others. Eight of them were wounded seriously enough to be medevaced for treatment. And Steve, many of those injured sustained traumatic brain injuries, so the number of wounded might rise as personnel are evaluated. Iran, by the way, denies being involved in attacks on U.S. forces, saying that was between what it calls resistance groups, militias that have escalated attacks on the U.S. military since the war in Gaza began.

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INSKEEP: And there certainly have been attacks in multiple countries in recent months by groups that the U.S. says are supported by Iran. But let me ask about this specific attack and the background. What are U.S. forces doing in Jordan?

ARRAF: Well, the Pentagon said the base that was hit was a logistic support base. It's known as Tower 22 of the Jordanian support network. It said there were about 350 U.S. Army and Air Force personnel there. A Defense Department statement said they're supporting anti-ISIS operations, but that support base is just across from Al-Tanf, a U.S. base in Syria, which also monitors activity by Iran-backed groups. So U.S. forces here, including special forces operators, maintain low-profile bases in Jordan and across the border in Syria, where they're partnering with local security forces in fighting ISIS. But here's an interesting wrinkle. Since the rise of ISIS in 2014, Kata'ib Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia, has also operated in that border area.

INSKEEP: So we've got ISIS to look at, we've got Iran to look at, in this area that I think Americans don't think about very much. And if it's low-profile bases, we're kind of encouraged not to think about very much. But U.S. troops are there on both sides of that border. So how might the U.S. respond now that they've been attacked in this effective way?

ARRAF: Well, President Biden has made clear that he blames Iran-backed groups despite that denial. And he says the U.S. will retaliate. But that's the dilemma. Since the Gaza war started in October, there have been fears that this could flare into a wider regional war if Iran is brought into it. And that's potentially what we're looking at. Military analysts are expecting the U.S. to retaliate directly against Iranian forces in the region now. So far Iran has not directly confronted the U.S. And, Steve, we have to keep in mind that the U.S. already faces threats on several fronts, sparked by the war in Gaza. There are attacks by Yemen's Houthis, attacks by Iran-backed militias, and this week, the U.S. began talks with Iraq and withdrawing all of their troops. And that too has an Iran link - pressure from Iran-backed militias that are a key part of Iraqi security and politics.

INSKEEP: Jane, thanks for the insights. Really appreciate it.

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ARRAF: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jane Arraf in Amman. 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.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Jane Arraf
Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.