Today’s D Brief: US troops killed in Jordan; Red Sea missile exchanges; Kyiv nabs embezzlers; Firms sour on fixed-price deals; And a bit more.

by Braxton Taylor

Three Americans were killed in a drone attack by Iran-backed militants near the Syria-Jordan border on Sunday. The incident marks the second time U.S. forces have perished during operations that involved Iranian proxies since the militant group Hamas launched its war with Israel in early October. (In the prior incident, two U.S. Navy SEALs were lost at sea during a naval interdiction off the Somali coast on January 11.)

The drone hit a barracks at a U.S. base just inside northeast Jordan and wounded nearly three dozen troops, eight of whom had to be medically evacuated, according to U.S. defense officials. The evacuated troops “are in stable condition,” and “All other service members are being fully evaluated for follow-on care,” officials at Central Command said Sunday evening. 

“The attack occurred at the logistics support base located at Tower 22 of the Jordanian Defense Network,” CENTCOM said. (The New York Times published a satellite image of the location on Sunday, here.) “There are approximately 350 U.S. Army and Air Force personnel deployed to the base, conducting a number of key support functions, including support to the coalition for the lasting defeat of ISIS,” the officials added. 

Why didn’t air defenses take out the drone? It’s not clear just yet. But Jordan is requesting Patriot air defense systems from the U.S., and officials there are asking for at least the second time since late October, according to Reuters, reporting Sunday from Amman. 

POTUS: “While we are still gathering the facts of this attack, we know it was carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq,” President Biden said in a statement Sunday, and promised to “hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner [of] our choosing.”

An ensemble of Iran-backed Shia militias claimed responsibility for the attack. They’re known generically as the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq,” and they’re the same ones who’ve been attacking U.S. forces inside Iraq and Syria more than 170 times since October, as the Washington Institute has been documenting closely; Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute puts the count at “180 attacks in 102 days.”

Lister called the strike “A huge escalation, and what everyone’s worried about since the first attack on October 18.” The location, known as Tower 22, was targeted at least once previously, Lister noted; and that was on October 23 when a projectile overshot the base and landed in Jordan. 

Capitol Hill reax: Several Republicans want to rush to war inside Iran, including Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi who demanded that the Pentagon strike “directly against Iranian targets and its leadership.” His southern colleague, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, went further and said Sunday, “The only answer to these attacks must be devastating military retaliation against Iran’s terrorist forces, both in Iran and across the Middle East. Anything less will confirm Joe Biden as a coward unworthy of being commander-in-chief.” Iowa’s Chuck Grassley asked on social media, “Will Pres Biden finally take decisive action against Iran???” 

“Hit Iran now. Hit them hard,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “The Biden Administration can take out all the Iranian proxies they like, but it will not deter Iranian aggression.” He added, “I am calling on the Biden Administration to strike targets of significance inside Iran, not only as reprisal for the killing of our forces, but as deterrence against future aggression.” His Texas comrade John Cornyn clarified his own tough talk in a tweet Sunday writing, “This is about deterrence, not war.”

The top GOP House lawmaker on the Armed Services Committee was less specific, though Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama still insisted in his own statement Sunday that “It’s long past time for President Biden to finally hold the terrorist Iranian regime and their extremist proxies accountable for the attacks they’ve carried out against U.S. and coalition forces.” Rogers followed that with a longer statement that—like Cotton’s—accused the White House of “appeasing” Iran and thus inviting the attack. [Note: Rogers sought to overturn U.S. election results in 2021.] 

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul called for “a major reset of our Middle East policy to protect our national security interests and restore deterrence.” And his Texas colleague, Dan Crenshaw, suggested it’s time to “kill another Iranian general, perhaps?” he wrote on social media, adding, “That might send the right message.” 

Democratic leaders are demanding justice and proportionality, but not a war with Iran, as Senate Leader Chuck Schumer said (via Reuters) the U.S. must “hold those responsible accountable,” and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said similarly, “Every single malignant actor responsible must be held accountable.” 

“The United States can and must respond to this brazen attack,” Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner said. New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand of the Senate Armed Services Committee likewise said, “The United States will ensure those behind this attack are brought to justice.” The attack “cannot go unanswered,” said Senate Foreign Relations Ben Cardin of Maryland, who said he “support[s] President Biden in a deliberate and proportionate response.” Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed of Rhode Island said similarly, “I am confident the Biden Administration will respond in a deliberate and proportional manner.”

What are some options for a U.S. response that are not inside Iran? One target might include the “general cargo” (and likely surveillance) ship Behshad, which has been hanging around the Red Sea or Gulf of Aden during virtually every Houthi naval attack off the Yemeni coast. 

MEI’s Lister had four suggestions: 

  • The “Glasshouse” at the airport in Damascus; 
  • The Imam Ali Base in eastern Syria, which features “hardened missile tunnels,” according to Lister; 
  • The Dimas Airbase, which is a “major drone facility” west of Damascus; 
  • And the Mayadin special forces training camp in eastern Syria.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush named his “axis of evil” members—Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

The Iran-backed Houthis struck the M/V Marlin Luanda oil tanker Friday night with an anti-ship ballistic missile as it transited the Gulf of Aden carrying Russian naphtha. The crew of the USS Carney (DDG 64) responded—and just six hours after shooting down a Houthi-launched missile aimed at Carney—along with the French Navy Frigate FS Alsace (D656) and Indian Navy Frigate INS Visakhapatnam (DD66). “There were no casualties in the attack, the ship remains seaworthy, and has returned to its previous course,” CENTCOM said Saturday. 

Also: The U.S. military struck another Houthi missile before it launched from Yemen on Saturday, CENTCOM announced separately this weekend. 

And the Brits downed a drone launched toward one of the Royal Navy’s vessels in the Red Sea on Saturday, the Defense Ministry said the following day. 

From the region: 

Ukrainian defense ministry officials and employees of a Ukrainian arms company conspired to steal almost $40 million intended to buy some 100,000 mortar shells, according to Kyiv’s security service. The Ukrainian government has charged five people in the theft, and arrested one who was trying to leave the country. 

Worth noting: “Ukraine’s prosecutor general says that the funds have since been seized and will be returned to the country’s defense budget,” AP reported.

Friday night U.S. arms-sale alerts: Greece wants to buy as many as 40 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters valued at up to $8.6 billion; and Turkey wants “up to 40 new F-16 fighter aircraft as well as upgrades to 79 of its existing fleet valued at up to $23 billion,” the Pentagon’s arms export agency announced late Friday. 

By the way: Acting Deputy Secretary of State Ambassador Victoria Nuland is visiting Turkey for a “comprehensive exchange of views,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry announced on social media Monday.

New: Lockheed to cut 1% of jobs to save money. The moves at the 122,000-person company will include hiring freezes and voluntary separations, a Lockheed Martin spokesman announced on Friday. (Reuters)

ICYMI: Lockheed will miss delivery goals on F-35s for a second year in a row, officials said last week.

Defense industry cools on fixed-price contracts. Last week, Northrop Grumman’s CEO admitted that the company made a $1.2 billion (and counting) mistake when it sought to build the U.S. Air Force’s new bomber: they committed to a fixed-price contract with an immature design. Kathy Warden says Northrop isn’t doing that anymore—and she’s not alone. The Merge has a good roundup of other defense giants that are swearing off contracts that commit them to meet a firm price while developing high-tech, cutting-edge weapons.

Boeing is the poster child for the trend, having lost billions on such work since 2018. But, writes The Merge: “Lockheed is done with them too. So is L3Harris….RTX (the artist formerly known as Raytheon) is taking a bearish but not absolute position—yet.” More, here.



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