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U.S. identifies the 3 service members who were killed in drone strike in Jordan

From left, Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, Sgt. William Jerome Rivers and Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders were identified as the three soldiers killed in a drone attack in Jordan.
U.S. Army Reserve Command
From left, Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, Sgt. William Jerome Rivers and Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders were identified as the three soldiers killed in a drone attack in Jordan.

Updated January 29, 2024 at 7:17 PM ET

The Pentagon on Monday released the identities of the three American service members killed Sunday by a drone strike in northeastern Jordan.

The three were identified as Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, of Carrollton, Ga.; Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, of Waycross, Ga.; and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, of Savannah, Ga.

The three were all reservists assigned to the 718th Engineer Company in Fort Moore, Ga.

Meanwhile, the number of those wounded in the attack rose to more than 40, the Pentagon announced on Monday.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said President Biden is committed to holding accountable those behind the drone strike, adding that the attack was "escalatory" and "requires a response."

But Kirby also emphasized that "we are not looking for a war with Iran," which U.S. officials say played a role in the attack.

"We'll do that on our schedule, in our time, and we'll do it in a manner of the president's choosing as commander in chief," he said.

The attack in Jordan marks the first deadly attack on U.S. forces in the Middle East since the Israel-Hamas broke out with the Hamas attacks on Israel on Oct. 7. The U.S. has been attempting to contain the conflict and prevent it from spreading further in the region.

What happened?

The aerial drone struck container housing units at Tower 22, a remote base in northeast Jordan near the Syrian border, early Sunday.

Tower 22 supports the Al-Tanf Garrison in southeastern Syria, where U.S. special operations have long operated in tandem with other countries in combating Islamic State militants. About 350 U.S. Army and Air Force personnel are deployed to the base.

Central Command said at least eight service members were evacuated out of Jordan to receive higher level care but they are in stable condition.

A U.S. official told NPR that the service members' injuries vary, with many suffering from traumatic brain injury. There are also reports of a spinal injury and at least one case of a shrapnel wound.

U.S. military has been under scrutiny after reports that air defenses at Tower 22 possibly mistook the enemy's drone for an American one which was operating around the same time and level of the attacker. The confusion was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Who was behind the attack?

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a coalition of militias backed by Iran, claimed credit for the attack. The group called it revenge for America's military presence in the region and the Palestinian death toll in Gaza. More than 25,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to Gaza's health ministry.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq claimed to have attacked a total of four military bases on Sunday — three of which are U.S. bases in Syria and on the Syrian-Jordanian border, and one belonging to Israel. There has been no confirmation of other attacks from U.S. officials.

Iranian officials deny the country had any involvement in the drone strike, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

But U.S. officials say they are confident that Iran played a role in the attack, though it is too soon to say if Iran directed the strike.

"We know that Iran is behind it," said Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh at a press conference on Monday. "Iran continues to arm and equip these groups to launch these attacks."

Why are U.S. troops in the Middle East?

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described the service members as "brave Americans" who were deployed to northeastern Jordan to "work for the lasting defeat of ISIS."

"The President and I will not tolerate attacks on American forces, and we will take all necessary actions to defend the United States, our troops, and our interests," he said in a statement Sunday.

About 900 U.S. troops are stationed in Syria and 2,500 in Iraq, largely to help fight ISIS. Since the Israel-Hamas war started, Iranian-linked forces have carried out more than 140 attacks in those two countries.

Earlier this month, Central Command said a "number" of U.S. military personnel were evaluated for traumatic brain injuries after Iran-backed groups launched multiple ballistic missiles and rockets on an airbase in western Iraq. Most of the missiles were intercepted but at least one Iraqi service member was wounded, it added.

In December, three U.S. service members were injured, one critically, by a drone strike in northern Iraq. In response, the U.S. said it carried outmultiple airstrikes against facilities used by militants.

NPR's Tom Bowman, Jane Arraf and Peter Kenyon contributed reporting.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.