Pentagon defends delay in US retaliatory strikes for drone attack

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned that the Middle East faces a “dangerous moment” in time, and on Thursday defended America’s apparent delay in responding to an enemy drone attack on Sunday that killed three US service members four days ago.

The remains of the three Army reservists killed in the attack on the base are expected to arrive in the United States on Friday, with Austin joining President Joe Biden and their families at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

At a news conference, Austin said the United States was preparing a “multi-level response” to the attack that would also minimize collateral damage.

Photo: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon at the Pentagon, on February 1, 2024 in Washington, D.C.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon at the Pentagon, on February 1, 2024 in Washington, D.C.

Kevin Wolfe/AP

He said the goal would be to weaken the capabilities of Iran-backed militants without plunging the region into a broader war.

“There are ways to manage this so it doesn’t get out of control. That’s been our focus all along,” he said.

The Pentagon declined to discuss operational details of the pending strikes, citing security concerns. A US official familiar with the plan, but who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the strikes would extend over several days and hit multiple countries including Iraq, Syria and possibly Yemen.

PHOTO: This handout photo taken on January 12, 2024, shows a fighter jet taking off from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower during fly-by operations in response to increasing Iranian-backed Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

This handout photo taken on January 12, 2024, shows a fighter jet taking off from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower during flight operations in response to increasing Iranian-backed Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

Zachary Elmore/US Navy via AFP via Getty Images

Since the beginning of the war between Israel and Gaza, the United States has found itself under near-constant attack from Iranian-backed militants targeting commercial ships along the Red Sea and American bases in Iraq and Syria. The tit-for-tat attacks have continued since the fall, and US officials say Iran is supplying groups targeting US assets.

US Central Command said on Wednesday that it had disabled a drone control ground station and 10 attack drones in one direction in Yemen.

Hours later, on Thursday, Houthi rebels fired two missiles but missed a nearby cargo ship, according to Central Command. The United States also reported shooting down a drone and an explosive unmanned surface vehicle.

Image: This satellite image released on January 29, 2024 by Planet Labs PBC and taken on October 12, 2023, shows a view of the base known as Tower 22.

This satellite image released on January 29, 2024 by Planet Labs PBC and taken on October 12, 2023, shows a view of the base, known as Tower 22, which is operated by US forces as part of an international coalition near Jordan’s borders with Iraq and Syria in the northeastern Ruwaished region.

Planet Labs/AFP via Getty Images

According to a US official, the drone that successfully struck a US base in Jordan last weekend was an Iranian-made Shahed drone, similar to the one used by the Russians on the battlefield in Ukraine.

Reuters first reported that the drone that killed the Americans was Iranian-made. Austin confirmed that most of the drones used in the region come from Iran.

When asked why the United States was seeking a multi-layered response, Austin said that US adversaries do not have a “get it done once mentality.”

“They have a lot of capabilities,” he noted. “I have a lot,” he added.

This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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