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February 2 2024

Policy Briefs

Islamic Republic Proxy Attack in Northeast Jordan Kills Three U.S. Troops

Andrew Ghalili

SENIOR POLICY ANALYST

Tymahz Toumadje

POLICY ANALYST

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an Islamic Republic proxy militia, conducted a drone attack on a U.S. base at Tower 22 of the Jordanian Defense Network, located in northeast Jordan, on January 28. This attack resulted in the deaths of three U.S. troops and injuries to 47 others. Though this is the first of these attacks that has resulted in the deaths of U.S. service members, Islamic Republic proxies have launched over 166 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, Syria, and now Jordan since October 17.


THE BOTTOM LINE

  • The drone attack in Jordan that killed three Americans is just the latest in a series of over 166 attacks conducted since October 17. The Islamic Republic and its proxies have claimed the attacks are in response to the Israel-Hamas war, suggesting that a ceasefire in Gaza would end the attacks, but they are in fact part of a larger campaign that the regime and its proxies have been waging to pressure the United States into capitulation on a variety of issues and to expel U.S. troops from the region.
  • Despite the comments from anonymous U.S. officials who have tried to absolve the Islamic Republic of responsibility for the attack in Jordan – something the Biden administration has repeatedly done since the regime-backed attacks began, as well as after the Hamas attack on October 7 – the Islamic Republic regime bears full responsibility for the attacks because they provide funding and weapons to these proxy groups. If the regime in Iran didn’t want these attacks to happen, they wouldn’t.
  • The U.S. has not yet directly retaliated for the attack in Jordan, although President Biden and members of his administration have publicly stressed –  on a near-daily basis since January 28 – their desire to de-escalate tensions in the region, with President Biden saying, “I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East. That’s not what I’m looking for.”
    • These repeated, unusual warnings of upcoming U.S. military action, and the delay in the U.S. response, only enable the Islamic Republic to move the assets it cares about most – such as senior IRGC officials – closer to safety.
  • The U.S. response should include strikes against Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) facilities, assets, or high-ranking personnel outside the territory of Iran.

Breakdown of Recent IR Proxy Attacks

  • There have been at least 166 attacks on U.S. assets by IR-backed proxies since October 17. A breakdown of the locations of these attacks is as follows: 67 in Iraq, 98 in Syria, and one in Jordan. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, “Approximately 80 US personnel have received non-serious injuries since the attacks began.”
    • Iraq: Locations of attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq include Al Asad Air Base, Al Harir Air Base, Erbil International Airport, Mosul Dam, and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. This includes a one-way drone attack on December 25 that left one U.S. service member in critical condition and wounded two others, as well as a ballistic missile attack on January 20 that gave four U.S. personnel traumatic brain injuries.
    • Syria: Locations of attacks against U.S. forces in Syria include Mission Support Site Conoco, Al Omar oil field (Green Village), Rumalyn Landing Zone, Al Tanf Garrison, Al Shaddadi, Tal Baidar, Al Malikiya, and Himu.
    • Jordan: The only attack conducted against U.S. forces in Jordan hit a U.S. logistics support base located at Tower 22 of the Jordanian Defense Network near the tri-border area of Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. According to U.S. officials, the enemy drone made it through air defense systems due to the fact that a U.S. drone was simultaneously returning to the base, causing confusion and resulting in no effort to shoot down the enemy drone.
  • The IRI-backed Houthi rebels, known as Ansar Allah, have also continued their attacks on shipping vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, with at least nine attacks taking place since the initial round of U.S. strikes against the Houthis on January 11, 2024. In total, 28 vessels have been targeted by the Houthis since it began its attacks
  • Two U.S. Navy SEALs drowned during the nighttime seizure of a dhow transporting Islamic Republic advanced weaponry from Iran to Houthi forces in Yemen on January 11, 2024.

The United States’ Response

  • The United States has yet to respond to the Jordan attack, providing Islamic Republic security forces and proxies the time to get to safer positions.
    • Several of the proxy groups within the Islamic Resistance in Iraq have evacuated their bases following the strike in Jordan, fearing U.S. retaliatory strikes.
  • Prior to the attack in Jordan, the United States conducted several airstrikes on “IRGC-affiliated groups” throughout eastern Syria on November 12, 2023.
    • On December 25, the United States also launched a retaliatory attack on three Kataib Hezbollah facilities in Iraq. On January 4, 2024, the United States launched an airstrike in Baghdad which killed the commander of the Harakat al Nujaba, a regime-backed militia that played a role in the attacks on U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria. On January 23, the U.S. again launched a series of airstrikes on three facilities used by several Islamic Resistance in Iraq organizations including Kataib Hezbollah.
    • Following the attack in Jordan, U.S. officials have said they are still determining which specific contingent of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq carried out the strike, although it “has the footprints of Kataib Hezbollah”according to Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as well as other U.S. officials, suggested that the retaliation would consist of multiple strikes over a period of several days.
    • Though these strikes should be aimed at deterring the Islamic Republic itself, the United States has failed to impose any real consequences on the regime, instead targeting the regime’s proxies while “calculating” that the Islamic Republic doesn’t control said proxies. Fear of “escalation” in the region cannot prevent the United States from adequately responding to those ultimately responsible for this attack– the Islamic Republic. These destabilizing activities will continue so long as the U.S. enables the Islamic Republic’s proxies to continue to shield them from any true repercussions. This is why the U.S. response should include strikes against Islamic Republic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) facilities, assets, or high-ranking personnel outside the territory of Iran.
    • U.S. officials have recently made statements distancing the Islamic Republic from the actions of its proxies, claiming that Tehran does not have authority over their operational decision-making. These statements are being made in order to set the groundwork for a U.S. response which only strikes at the Islamic Republic’s proxies without targeting the regime directly.
  • The United States should encourage the European Union to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization. This designation would enable more strict financial restrictions against the IRGC, limiting its ability to fund and support proxy groups in Iraq in the long-term. The United States designated the IRGC a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in April 2019.

Image (Al Tanf Garrison) courtesy of AP Photo/Lolita Baldor.