Widening Mideast Crisis: Officials Propose 6-Week Pause in War and Hostage-Prisoner Swap

Air defenses did not cease an assault on a U.S. army outpost in Jordan on Sunday that killed three American troopers at the least in half as a result of the hostile drone approached its goal on the identical time an American drone was returning to the bottom, two U.S. officers mentioned on Monday.

The enemy drone was mistaken for an American surveillance drone returning to the distant resupply base, and air defenses weren’t instantly engaged, in line with the officers, who spoke on the situation of anonymity to debate preliminary findings of a serious explanation for the episode. Two different drones that attacked different areas close by in southeast Syria had been shot down, they added.

The Wall Street Journal earlier reported the drone mix-up, now on the coronary heart of an investigation by the army’s Central Command into the lethal assault that has drawn vows of retaliation from President Biden, raised doubts about American army defenses in the Middle East, and begged anew questions concerning the administration’s efforts to discourage assaults by Iran-backed militias towards service provider vessels, warships and army bases in the area.

The assault on Sunday killed three U.S. Army Reserve troopers, the primary recognized American army fatalities from hostile hearth in the turmoil spilling over from Israel’s warfare with Hamas. The Pentagon on Monday raised the injured toll to at the least 40, with a warning that the listing would in all probability develop as further troops got here ahead with signs of mind trauma from the blast.

Biden administration officers blamed a drone launched by an Iran-backed militia from Iraq, and suspicions on the Pentagon instantly fell on Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-affiliated group in Iraq. “It has the footprints of Kataib Hezbollah,” Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman, advised reporters, noting that intelligence analysts had been nonetheless assessing the strike.

Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, of Carrollton, Ga., from left, Spec. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, of Savannah, Ga., and Spec. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, in images launched by the U.S. Army Reserve Command on Monday.Credit…U.S. Army, by way of Reuters

The Pentagon on Monday recognized the lifeless troopers as Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, of Carrollton, Ga.; Spec. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, of Waycross, Ga.; and Spec. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, of Savannah, Ga. The three had been assigned to the 718th Engineer Company, 926th Engineer Battalion, 926th Engineer Brigade, an Army Reserve unit primarily based in Fort Moore, Ga.

The drone strike on the outpost in northeast Jordan close to its borders with Syria and Iraq, known as Tower 22, escalated hostilities in the area which have been mounting for the reason that Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel and the next warfare in Gaza.

A army investigation is underway to find out precisely what went fallacious. Pentagon officers mentioned the bottom’s air defenses had been functioning correctly early Sunday. Weather was not an element.

One principle army officers are analyzing is that the militants studied the patterns of U.S. drone flights and intentionally positioned their assault drone close to the returning American drone to make it tougher to identify. Militia planners might have used Google Earth photographs of the bottom to information the explosives-laden drone to the middle of a mass goal just like the dwelling quarters.

Mr. Biden has vowed to retaliate, and he met for a second straight day on Monday together with his senior nationwide safety aides to debate doable targets in Syria, Iraq and Iran. Senior U.S. officers mentioned attacking Iran instantly was much less seemingly, although the U.S. army has drawn up plans to strike Iranian army advisers and trainers in Iraq and Syria in the occasion that U.S. troops had been killed by Iran-backed militias in the Middle East.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, on his first day again to work on the Pentagon since his surgical procedure final month for prostate most cancers, condemned the assaults and vowed retribution.

“Let me start with my outrage and sorrow for the deaths of three brave U.S. troops in Jordan and for the other troops who were wounded,” Mr. Austin mentioned earlier than assembly with NATO’s secretary common, Jens Stoltenberg. “The president and I will not tolerate attacks on U.S. forces, and we will take all necessary actions to defend the U.S. and our troops.”

The drone strike in Jordan underscored that the Iran-backed militias — whether or not in Iran or Syria, or the Houthis in Yemen — remained able to inflicting severe penalties on American troops regardless of the U.S. army’s efforts to weaken them and keep away from tumbling right into a wider battle, presumably with Iran itself.

American troops in Iraq and Syria, and now Jordan, have come underneath assault at the least 165 occasions since October — 66 occasions in Iraq, 98 occasions in Syria and Sunday’s assault in Jordan — the Pentagon mentioned on Monday. More than 80 service members had suffered accidents, together with mind trauma, earlier than the most recent salvo.

“We know that Iran supports these groups,” John F. Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, mentioned on Monday. “We know they resource them, we know they train them. We know that they’re certainly not discouraging these attacks.”

But Mr. Kirby added, “The degree to which they order and direct is something that intelligence analysts will look at.”

Pressed repeatedly at briefings with reporters on Monday about when and how the United States would reply, Mr. Kirby and Ms. Singh declined to touch upon particular choices. They emphasised that the administration was in search of to avert a wider warfare in the area, whilst they blamed the assault for escalating tensions.

“We’re not looking for a war with Iran,” Mr. Kirby mentioned. “But the attacks have to stop.”

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken mentioned on Monday that he wouldn’t “telegraph” any potential U.S. response however that such motion “could be multileveled, come in stages — and be sustained over time.”

Mr. Blinken added: “This is an incredibly volatile time in the Middle East. I would argue that we have not seen a situation as dangerous as the one we’re facing now across the region since at least 1973, and arguably even before that.”

For its half, Iran on Monday denied any link to the assault and blamed Washington for igniting tensions in the area.

About 350 Army and Air Force personnel are deployed to the Tower 22 border outpost. It serves as a logistics and resupply hub for the Al Tanf garrison close by in southeastern Syria, the place American troops work with native Syrian companions to struggle remnants of the Islamic State.

The one-way assault drone hit close to the outpost’s dwelling quarters, inflicting accidents that ranged from minor cuts to mind trauma, a U.S. army official mentioned. Eight U.S. service members had been flown to Iraq for medical care, and three of these had been anticipated to be flown to Germany for much more superior remedy, Ms. Singh mentioned.

The troopers and airmen had been dwelling in containerized housing models, Ms. Singh mentioned, primarily aluminum packing containers a bit larger than a industrial transport container. They have linoleum flooring and cots or beds inside, and will be simply transported on vehicles.

“What was different about this attack is where it landed,” Ms. Singh mentioned. “It was pretty early in the morning, so people were actually in their beds when the drone impacted.”

Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

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