(WASHINGTON) — Warning that the Middle East is facing a “dangerous moment” in time, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday defended America’s seeming delay in responding to Sunday’s enemy drone attack that killed three American service members four days ago.
The remains of three Army reservists killed in the base attack were expected to arrive stateside on Friday, with Austin joining President Joe Biden and the families at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
In a press briefing, Austin said the U.S. is preparing a “multi-tiered response” to the attack that also minimizes collateral damage.
The goal, he said, would be to degrade the capabilities of Iran-backed militants without plunging the region into a broader war.
“There are ways to manage this so it doesn’t spiral out of control. And that’s been our focus throughout,” he said.
The Pentagon has declined to discuss operational details of the pending strikes, citing security concerns. A U.S. official familiar with the plan, but speaking on condition of anonymity, said the strikes will unfold across several days and hit multiple countries including Iraq and Syria and possibly Yemen.
Since the start of the Israeli-Gaza war, the U.S. has found itself under near-constant attack from Iran-backed militants targeting commercial ships along the Red Sea and U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria. The tit-for-tat attacks have dragged on since fall, and U.S. officials say Iran is supplying the groups targeting U.S. assets.
On Wednesday, U.S. Central Command said it stuck down a ground-based drone control station and 10 one-way attack drones in Yemen.
Hours later, on Thursday, Houthi rebels launched two missiles but missed a nearby cargo ship, according to Central Command. The U.S. also reported striking down a drone and an explosive uncrewed surface vehicle.
According to a U.S. official, the drone that successfully hit a U.S. base in Jordan last weekend was an Iranian-made Shahed drone, similar to those 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 U.S. is pursuing a multi-tiered response, Austin said U.S. adversaries don’t have a “one-and-done mindset.”
He noted, “they have a lot of capability.” He added: “I have a lot more.”
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