In a recent incident that has drawn international attention, a drone attack targeted a little-discussed U.S. military desert outpost known as Tower 22 in the northeastern region of Jordan. This attack resulted in the tragic death of three American troops and left at least 34 others injured.
The outpost is situated near the demilitarized zone on the border between Jordan and Syria, marked by a sandy berm along the southern edge of the DMZ, with the Iraqi border just 10 kilometers (6 miles) away.
The specific area, called Rukban, once hosted a refugee camp on the Syrian side during the rise of the Islamic State group’s so-called caliphate in 2014, reaching a population of over 100,000 people. Jordan, concerned about potential infiltration by extremists, prevented their entry into the kingdom. This caution stemmed from a 2016 car bomb attack that claimed the lives of seven Jordanian border guards.
Over time, the Rukban camp has significantly decreased in size to approximately 7,500 residents due to a shortage of essential supplies, according to United Nations estimates.
Tower 22, initially a Jordanian border outpost, saw an increased U.S. presence after American forces entered Syria in late 2015. The base houses around 350 U.S. Army and Air Force personnel, contributing to various functions such as engineering, aviation, logistics, and security.
Strategically located, the base serves as a point for U.S. forces to enter and exit Syria quietly. Al-Tanf, a small American garrison in Syria, is situated just 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Tower 22. Al-Tanf is positioned along a Syrian highway leading into Iraq, specifically Mosul, a former stronghold of the Islamic State group. Additionally, it serves as a potential route for weapons shipments from Iran.
The United States has historically used Jordan as a base, given its strategic location bordering Iraq, Israel, the West Bank, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Approximately 3,000 American troops are typically stationed across Jordan.
However, the U.S. military presence in Jordan carries the risk of provoking public unrest, particularly given the ongoing mass demonstrations in the country against Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip. A significant portion of Jordan’s population, around 3 million out of 11.5 million, is of Palestinian descent.
In response to the recent drone attack on Tower 22, Jordan initially denied the existence of the base within its borders. The incident raises concerns about the potential impact on the stability of Jordan, a crucial American ally, and the rule of King Abdullah II.