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US Service Member, Family Members Injured in Brussels Terror Attacks

People walk away from the broken windows at Zaventem Airport in Brussels after an explosion on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
People walk away from the broken windows at Zaventem Airport in Brussels after an explosion on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

A U.S. service member and four members of his family suffered injuries that were believed to be non-life threatening in the Brussels terror attacks, U.S. military officials said Tuesday.

"We are aware of one U.S. service member and his family who were caught up in this tragedy," U.S. European Command said in a statement after issuing a previous release that stated all personnel were safe and accounted for.

It didn't give the conditions of the injured or state whether the injuries were suffered at the Brussels international airport or in the Brussels subway system in the series of attacks that killed at least 34 and wounded more than 130.

The Air Force later in the day confirmed that the service member was an airman from Joint Force Command Brunssum in the Netherlands.

"The airman's family was also present and has sustained various injuries," the service said in a statement. "Due to privacy concerns, we are not releasing the status of their injuries."

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said, "We are saddened by today's attacks and extend our sincere condolences to the victims and families of those impacted. Our priority at this time is the safety and well-being of our airmen and their families."   Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said, "Our thoughts and prayers are with our Air Force family, and with the hundreds of others affected by these tragic events."

The Defense Department has about 1,300 military personnel and dependents and about 600 civilian employees in Belgium, which is home to the European Union and NATO.

The U.S. military was also rechecking with subordinate commands throughout Europe to confirm the status of the more than 50,000 U.S. personnel in the region.

"To confirm the safety of all US military personnel and families, to include those on pre-approved leaves and other official travel, we continue to seek 100 percent accountability from all subordinate commands and units," European Command said.

One military spouse stationed near Brussels at NATO's headquarters in Mons who asked that her name not be used because of her husband's job said they are being told to avoid traveling and, if in Brussels, shelter in place.

"We're getting the same type of guidance that we normally get in these situations: stay aware, stay connected," she said. "We've been advised to limit our cell phone usage because the system is overloaded. People are donating blood -- one center near the base is turning people away because they have too many volunteers."

She said while officials have not yet offered to evacuate families from Brussels, if the opportunity arose she might take it.

"I'm on the fence about an early return," she said. "We are due to PCS in just three months, so if we could just precede my husband to his new duty station, that would be OK," she said, referring to permanent change of station.

She said she has asked her college-aged daughter to stay in the U.S. because of the danger. And explaining what is happening to her small children has become challenging.

"We're told her, at this point, that we are not bringing her back," she said. "We had planned to have her come back for that last month but I don't want her on a plane now. My kids come home from school full of questions about what happened and how it will affect us."

EUCOM and NATO also went on higher alert.  At NATO headquarters, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of Norway said "We have decided to increase the alert state at NATO headquarters. We remain vigilant and continue to monitor the situation very closely."

Following the attacks, Amaq, a purported news agency affiliated with ISIS, issued a bulletin saying that the militant group was responsible and cited Belgium's participation in the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

"Islamic State fighters carried out a series of bombings with explosive belts and devices on Tuesday, targeting an airport and a central Metro station in the center of the Belgian capital, Brussels, a country participating in the coalition against the Islamic State," the bulletin said.

"Islamic State fighters opened fire inside the Zaventem airport, before several of them detonated their explosive belts, as a martyrdom bomber detonated his explosive belt in the Maelbeek Metro station," the Amaq bulletin said.

According to the U.S. military, Belgian warplanes flew 796 sorties and launched 163 attacks over Iraq from September 2014 to July 2015.

The attacks occurred four days after the capture on Friday in Brussels of Europe's most wanted man – Saleh Abdeslam. He was suspected of being the sole survivor of the 10 men believed to have been directly involved in the Islamic State attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris last Nov. 13.

Belgian media initially reported that one of the blasts at the airport occurred near the American Airlines counters, but American Airlines denied the report.

About an hour after the airport explosions, there was a blast at the Maelbeek Metro station in central Brussels near the U.S. Embassy and European Union headquarters.

In Washington, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter condemned the attacks and said they underscored the need to speed up the coalition campaign to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria to limit the terror group's ability to "metastasize" to other regions and spread its radical ideology.

"No attack will affect our resolve to accelerate the defeat" of ISIS, Carter said in testimony with Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford to the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) at a hearing on the defense budget request. "The Brussels attacks re-inforce our need to accelerate the defeat" of ISIS, Carter said.

"In the face of these acts of terrorism, the U.S. stands in strong solidarity with our ally Belgium" and "we stand ready to provide assistance to our friends and allies in Europe," Carter said. "Together we must and we will continue to do everything we can to defend our homeland and defeat terrorists."

As he has previously, Carter said that the key to defeating ISIS was the removal of the "parent tumor" by retaking the ISIS stronghold of Mosul in northwestern Iraq and also by ousting ISIS from its self-proclaimed capital of Raqaa in northeastern Syria.

The recent insertion of about 200 Marines at a new firebase at Mahmour about 60 miles southeast of Mosul was part of the accelerated campaign against ISIS, Carter said. He said the death of Marine Staff Sgt. Louis F. Cardin last Saturday from ISIS rocket fire came in support of the mission to retake Mosul, Carter said.

However, Dunford warned of a lengthy campaign that will be required to defeat ISIS and said that the Brussels attacks were a "reminder that we have a long fight ahead."

The Brussels attacks also highlighted the need to update the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to include efforts to defeat ISIS, Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, said in a statement.

"We must take up an AUMF to give President Obama every authority to destroy ISIS," Ernst said. "Now is the time for all Americans to stand up and show our support for our Belgian allies, the cause of freedom, and for those men and women who confront terrorism on a daily basis to help prevent horrifying attacks from happening again."

In a joint statement, Sens. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, charged that the Obama administration had allowed the ISIS threat to "grow and strengthen for years" but the administration "still has no plausible strategy" for its defeat "on anything close to an acceptable timeline."

At the House hearing, Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican and the HASC Chairman, made the same point and charged that Carter had ignored a Feb. 15 deadline to submit to Congress a detailed and written strategy for ISIS' defeat.

In its defense budget request, the administration asked for more funding in the campaign against ISIS and "I think that is understandable and appropriate," Thornberry said.

"What I do not understand is that the law required the administration to provide Congress with a written document laying out its strategy to fight ISIS," Thornberry said. "That document was due Feb. 15. We've received nothing and we have no indication anything is on the way." In response, Carter said the strategy would be delivered soon.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at Amy.Bushatz@Military.com.

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