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U.S. blames Iran-backed militants for drone attack that killed 3 service members

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How will the United States respond to an attack that killed three Americans? A drone struck a U.S. base in a remote corner of Jordan over the weekend. The group claiming responsibility is called Islamic Resistance in Iraq, and our correspondent Tom Bowman calls them an umbrella group for various Iran-backed militias in Iraq, which is right there by Jordan. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby has been following all this from his post at the White House. Mr. Kirby, welcome back.

JOHN KIRBY: Thank you, Steve. It's good to be with you this morning.

INSKEEP: How confident are you that the group claiming responsibility is, in fact, the group responsible?

KIRBY: I think we're still working through the intelligence on this. Certainly not in a position to validate one way or the other. But this is a group - as you rightly put it, an umbrella group that we are certainly familiar with. And they have been responsible for attacks in the past. They are supported by Kataib Hezbollah, which is one of the chief Iranian-backed militia groups there in the region. So it has all the earmarks of the support, at least at the very minimum, of Kataib Hezbollah. But we're still working our way through that.

INSKEEP: Ah. Well, I'm trying to figure that out, and it may be hard to answer. But Iran has denied responsibility for this attack. Given the uncertainty, how would you describe Iran's involvement? Do you suspect they ordered it or merely that they're connected with the groups involved?

KIRBY: It's certainly hard to get your brain wrapped around the fact that Iran had nothing to do with this. I mean, they support these groups. They resource them. They train them. They provide them the capabilities. And they're certainly doing nothing to discourage these attacks. So I think it's pretty rich that Iran would say they - you know, that they're absolving themselves of any responsibility. Clearly they have a sense of responsibility here. As for exactly what that looked like in this particular attack, again, we're still sorting our way through all the information. Our main focus right now is on the injured and making sure that they get the care that they need and, obviously, taking care of the families of those who tragically got the worst possible news over the weekend. But certainly, look, from an aggregate perspective, Iran is responsible.

INSKEEP: We're talking here in some cases, according to Tom Bowman, about traumatic brain injury. And I guess we should just explain for people, that means someone was near a large explosion. They may not have been touched by shrapnel or anything, but that can be a devastating injury.

KIRBY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, look, it is a physical injury. And usually - sometimes it can take a while to present itself for the individual. You'll have concussive effects, but it's not just a concussion. It is a physical injury to the brain, as it is basically forced to collide with the skull inside. So, I mean, it can be very, very serious. And that's how we take it. We take a traumatic brain injury like we would any other serious injury. It's something we're going to obviously monitor and make sure that those troops get the care that they need.

INSKEEP: John, we had a debate in the newsroom here this morning. Is this a low-level regional war - now that there has been violence in so many places that seem at least loosely connected to the Israel-Hamas war and Iran's opposition to Israel and the United States, we're asking, is it a low-level regional war or not quite that? How would you describe it?

KIRBY: We don't - we're not talking about it in those terms. In fact, we don't want to see a wider conflict. In fact, everything the president has done since the 7 of October, Steve, has really been designed to try to de-escalate, to try to prevent a wider conflict. We don't want that. We're not looking for a war with Iran. We're not looking for a broader regional conflict. And again, everything that we're doing and trying to do is to prevent that outcome.

INSKEEP: Although it would seem - if you assume that Iran is in some way behind these attacks in Jordan, attacks in Yemen, attacks in other places, attacks from Lebanon into Israel - if you assume Iran is behind all of that, that they're not deterred, that they're confident that they can get away at least with this level of violence.

KIRBY: Clearly, they continue to encourage some of these attacks. They continue to resource these groups that conduct these attacks. So we haven't seen a change in the calculus of the supreme leader or the IRGC. And that's deeply concerning. And that's why we're going to take the right time to make the appropriate response decisions in the wake of this attack. The president's taken this very seriously. It was a consequential attack now. We've had three service members killed, 30-some-odd wounded, and there will be a response, as the president said, and it'll be calibrated to hopefully have a better effect on the decision-making of these groups.

INSKEEP: Sounds like it's not calibrated the way you want yet.

KIRBY: Again, we'll take a look at the options ahead of us. The president had a good meeting over the weekend with his national security team, and he'll review the options that are available to him, and we'll move forward.

INSKEEP: National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby. Always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

KIRBY: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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