The killing of three U.S. troops and wounding of dozens more on Sunday by Iran-backed militants is piling political pressure on President Joe Biden to deal a blow directly against Iran, a move he’s been reluctant to do out of fear of igniting a broader war.
Biden’s response options could range anywhere from targeting Iranian forces outside to even inside Iran, or opting for a more cautious retaliatory attack solely against the Iran-backed militants responsible, experts say.
American forces in the Middle East have been attacked more than 150 times by Iran-backed forces in Iraq, Syria, Jordan and off the coast of Yemen since the Israel-Hamas war erupted in October.
But until Sunday’s attack on a remote outpost known as Tower 22 near Jordan’s northeastern border with Syria, the strikes had not killed U.S. troops nor wounded so many. That allowed Biden the political space to mete out U.S. retaliation, inflicting costs on Iran-backed forces without risking a direct war with Tehran.
Biden said the United States would respond, without giving any more details.
Republicans accused Biden of letting American forces become sitting ducks, waiting for the day when a drone or missile would evade base defenses. They say that day came on Sunday, when a single one-way attack drone struck near base barracks early in the morning.
In response, they say Biden must strike Iran.
“He left our troops as sitting ducks,” said Republican U.S. Senator Tom Cotton. “The only answer to these attacks must be devastating military retaliation against Iran’s terrorist forces, both in Iran and across the Middle East.”