Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Thursday admitted the US does not know if Iran was operationally involved in the drone attack in Jordan that killed three American soldiers. On the same day, US officials told CBS News that plans have been approved for strikes against Iranian personnel and facilities in Iraq and Syria.
When asked by a reporter how much Iran knew about the Jordan drone attack or if it was operationally involved, Austin said, “You know, we believe that this was done by an element of what is known as the Axis of Resistance, and these are Iranian proxy groups. And how much Iran knew or didn’t know, we — we don’t know, but it really doesn’t matter because Iran sponsors these groups.”
Austin said that if the Shia militias the US believes were responsible for the attack were not supported by Iran, these “kinds of things don’t happen.”
The US has said it believes the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, an umbrella group of Iraqi militias, was responsible for the attack. Kataib Hezbollah announced Tuesday it was suspending attacks on US troops in Iraq and Syria, which was the result of pressure from the Iraqi government and Iran, making it clear Tehran does not seek more escalations in the region.
On Thursday, Reuters reported that Iran was reducing its presence in Syria after Israeli airstrikes on Damascus killed five members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on January 20. In December, Israel killed a senior IRGC officer who was based in Syria.
However, sources told Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen that it was not true that Iran scaled back its deployment of IRGC officers in Syria. But the sources indicated Iran was taking some steps for protection, with one saying that Iranian advisors “have been asked to remain in Syria, but without their families.”
Iran has vowed it would respond to any US attacks, whether they’re inside Iran or against Iranians elsewhere in the region. The US officials speaking to CBS said the plans to strike Iranians would be carried out over a number of days.
The day before, US officials told NBC News the US was planning a weeks-long bombing campaign. Austin told reporters that the US was planning a “multitiered response” but did not publicly say what the targets will be. “We have the ability to respond a number of times depending on what the situation is,” he said.