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U.S. Defense Secretary Assures Troops Amid Rising Threats from Iran-backed Rebels

More than a month before a drone strike claimed the lives of three U.S. soldiers in Jordan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sought to reassure U.S. troops about the military’s ability to withstand attacks by Iran-backed rebels. In remarks to sailors aboard the Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier on December 20, Austin attributed the rebels’ lack of success to their inefficiency, stating, “they’re not very good at what they do.” However, with an escalating cycle of violence in the Middle East, including attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and off the coast of Yemen, the Biden administration is vowing to protect its forces. Despite this assurance, experts warn that periodic successes by the Iran-backed rebels may be unavoidable, given the sheer volume of attacks and the limitations of base defenses.

Nevertheless, U.S. commanders continue the tradition of projecting resilience and determination in front of their troops. Defense Secretary Austin, a retired four-star general with firsthand experience on the ground in Iraq, has faced hostile situations himself.

Continuous Threats and Unavoidable Risks

Since October, there have been more than 168 attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq, Syria, and Jordan, causing injuries among 143 U.S. service members. The worst attack occurred on January 28 when a drone struck a U.S. base on Jordan’s border with Syria, resulting in the deaths of three soldiers. Current and former U.S. officials suggest that periodic successes in these attacks may be inevitable due to the multitude of drones, rockets, and missiles fired at U.S. troops. Experts caution against underestimating the Iran-backed operatives, emphasizing their history of conducting sophisticated transnational strikes.

Factors Contributing to Attacks

While a U.S. military investigation is ongoing, several factors may have contributed to the failure of American defenses during the drone attack in Jordan. The low altitude of the approaching drone and the sheer probability of success were key elements. Officials believe that the rebels did not employ particularly sophisticated tactics during the attack. The success, they argue, may have resulted from the cumulative effect of consistently targeting well-defended bases. The incident highlights the inherent risks and challenges in maintaining 100% effective defenses in combat situations.

Retaliatory Measures and Criticisms

Following the drone attack, the Biden administration has pledged to take necessary measures to protect U.S. forces. Retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria, linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and its backed militias, have ensued. Critics argue that these measures do not exert sufficient pressure on Tehran, which supports the groups behind the attacks. Some Republicans in Congress advocate for more significant military actions against Iranian forces, a proposal resisted by the Biden administration to prevent escalation into a broader conflict. The situation underscores the complexity of managing threats in the region and the need for a nuanced approach to protect U.S. forces.

Ongoing Evaluation of Force Protection Measures

The Pentagon has emphasized its commitment to safeguarding U.S. forces and continually evaluating force protection measures. Despite the tragic incident in Jordan, Defense Secretary Austin remains focused on prioritizing the security and well-being of U.S. troops. The challenges posed by Iran-backed rebels persist, and the Biden administration continues to navigate the delicate balance between protecting its forces, responding to attacks, and avoiding broader conflicts in the volatile Middle East.

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