The drone that killed three U.S. troops at a base in Jordan late last month was likely undetected as it approached too low in the sky, with no air defense system on site that could down it, according to a new report.
U.S. Central Command’s initial assessment of the attack found that the Iranian-made drone was probably missed “due to its low flight path,” a U.S. defense official told The Washington Post.
The Tower 22 base where the attack happened doesn’t have large air defense systems, and the official said the installation didn’t possess weapons that can “kill” aerial threats, such as drones and missiles, with only electronic warfare systems meant to disable or disrupt their flight.
The new assessment appears to contradict earlier reports that the enemy drone was mistaken for an American one returning to the base about the same time, which let it pass unchallenged through defenses and hit a troop barracks at the small installation. Three service members were killed and more than 40 were injured, including eight who had to be medically evacuated.
Asked about the findings later on Tuesday, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said CENTCOM is still in the midst of its review on the deadly attack and could not comment until it was finished.
“We’re still assessing exactly what happened in that attack. And of course, CENTCOM and the [Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin] will determine if there’s any change or needs to be any change to our defensive posture at Tower 22 or any other base in the region. But I just don’t have more for you on that specific attack,” she told reporters.
She also would not say how many bases in the Middle East that house U.S. troops do not have air defense systems that can shoot down attack drones, citing operational security.
Quickly after the attack in Jordan, CENTCOM announced a review to determine how the drone was able to evade air defenses and slip through.
“[Revealing] our air defenses, where they’re located and how many bases have what, I think that just wouldn’t be good for our own operational security and our force protection,” Singh said.
The attack on Tower 22 marks the first time Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq have killed U.S. service members since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October. The fighting, which includes a brutal air campaign in the Gaza Strip that has reportedly killed more than 27,500 Palestinians, has inflamed the region.
The Iranian proxies have attacked American positions in the Middle East 168 times as of Tuesday, including 67 times in Iraq, 100 in Syria and one in Jordan, according to Singh.
In the Red Sea, meanwhile, Houthi rebels in Yemen have attacked or threatened commercial vessels 41 times since Nov. 19.
Singh also sought to downplay any suggestion that American forces had a lack of air defenses at smaller installations, stressing that “for the most part, our air defenses have been able to catch or been able to destroy any impact or any incoming … rockets or drones at bases.”
Asked whether U.S. troops could be consolidated to bases with adequate air defenses as they endure stepped up attacks in the region, Singh said it would take away from the reason they are there in the first place — the mission to keep the Islamic State militant group from re-emerging.
“Across Iraq and Syria and Jordan, the mission of the service members is the defeat ISIS mission. So moving our troops and our service members into different areas takes away from their mission. That’s what they’re there for, that’s what they’re there to do,” she said.
In response to the Jordan attack, the U.S. on Friday hit more than 85 targets at seven locations in Iraq and Syria, strikes that U.S. officials say are just the start of retribution.