U.S. intelligence officials reportedly were warned months before a deadly drone strike at an outpost in Jordan about the rising risk for Iranian-made weapons to penetrate American defenses in the Middle East.
Politico reported that intelligence agencies' officials at the Pentagon issued the warnings internally and in briefings on Capitol Hill beginning in late October, when Israel invaded Gaza and Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria ramped up attacks on American forces.
According to Politico, which cited two unnamed sources, alarmed officials claimed it was only a matter of time before one of the Iranian-made drones targeting American forces in the region got through U.S. air defense systems.
Intelligence officials also raised concerns about the potential for attacks on U.S. personnel in Jordan from Iran-backed groups, one of the officials told Politico — worries that were part of a broader assessment that American troops and diplomats in the region were vulnerable after the Gaza invasion.
The latest warnings grew more urgent as Iran-backed militias stepped up attacks in October and November, Politico noted, raising questions about whether the Pentagon could have done more to increase protections at the Jordan outpost and elsewhere after Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
Tower 22, the outpost where three service members were killed Jan. 28, had already been threatened at least once by a drone from an Iran-backed militias in October, when its air defenses took out the enemy drone using electronic warfare, Politico reported.
"In theory, [Department of Defense] has had a few months to rectify the lack of defense, and it didn't," said Charles Lister, a senior fellow and director of the Syria and Countering Terrorism & Extremism programs at the Middle East Institute. "There is a precedent for an attack on the facility. And that should have rung alarm bells, that it was insufficiently defended."
Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh told Politico that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin "has no higher priority than protecting our forces and taking care of our people."
"We continue to take necessary steps to safeguard our forces who serve in harm's way, and continuously reevaluate our force protection measures," Singh said, declining to discuss specifics "for operations security reasons."
The U.S. has long debated how to defend against increasingly available Iranian drones, Politico noted, and took steps to reinforce defenses at Tower 22 after Israel's October invasion.
However, Tower 22 may have had an additional vulnerability; it wasn't provided a "kinetic" counter-drone capability, one source told Politico about information first reported by the Washington Post.
Instead, the base had "multiple" electronic warfare capabilities that enabled it to counter drones through jamming or disabling its systems, Politico reported.
There have been more than 160 Iran-backed attacks on U.S. troops in Syria, Iraq, and Jordan since October. In addition to the three service members killed at Tower 22, the attacks have injured 143 people, Maj. Pete Nguyen, DOD spokesperson, told Politico.
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