Biden Honors Three U.S. Soldiers Killed in Jordan

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President Biden honored three Army reservists killed in the Middle East as their bodies were returned to the United States on Friday in a silent, somber ceremony marking the first deaths under fire in a proxy war with Iranian-backed militias since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Mr. Biden attended a short event known as a “dignified transfer” at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware along with his wife, Jill Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and General Charles Q. Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No speeches were given but the president and others stood solemnly in a cold wind as the flag-draped cases were carried across the tarmac.

The ceremony came as Mr. Biden prepared what officials describe as a multitiered retaliation playing out over more than one day against targets in more than one country associated with Iran or its affiliated armed groups in Iraq or Syria. The coming American strikes are intended not only to punish those deemed responsible for the attack that killed the three reservists but to deter future attacks without going so far that they would provoke escalation into an even wider war.

Mr. Austin made clear at a briefing on Thursday that the retaliatory strike would go further than any undertaken so far in the nearly four-month conflict in the Middle East. “At this point it’s time to take away even more capability than we’ve taken in the past,” he said.

But while U.S. officials have said Iran is responsible for the actions of the militias it supplies and funds, it appeared unlikely that Mr. Biden would actually hit targets inside Iran itself, as Republican critics in Congress have demanded. It seemed he would instead focus on armed groups in Iraq and Syria.

The three reservists were killed by an explosives-laden drone at a remote base in Jordan, just over the border with Iraq, where fighters supplied by Iran operate. While the drone attack was just the latest of more than 160 mounted against American and allied targets since Oct. 7, it was the first to cause U.S. fatalities. Two Navy SEALs died after going overboard during an interdiction operation in the Arabian Sea and an American civilian contractor died of a heart attack during a false alarm for a strike.

Those killed in Jordan were identified as Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, of Carrollton, Ga.; Specialist Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, of Waycross, Ga.; and Specialist Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, of Savannah, Ga.

The three were assigned to the 926th Engineer Battalion, 926th Engineer Brigade, based at Fort Moore, Ga., a unit that builds roads, landing fields and other facilities for American troops overseas. Specialists Sanders and Moffett were posthumously promoted to sergeant after their deaths. About 40 others were injured in the Sunday attack.

Before the arrival of the slain, members of their families met privately with Mr. Biden. After the C-5 transport plane landed at Dover, each of the transfer cases was carried off by a team of six troops in camouflage uniforms and white gloves as Mr. Biden and Dr. Biden stood in overcoats along with Mr. Austin and General Brown.

The president held his hand over his heart as each case passed before him. The cases were loaded into a van, the doors were closed and the vehicle pulled away.