A Dozen Missiles Target US Troops at Al Asad, Erbil in Iran Retaliatory Strike

A U.S. service member stands in Iraq.
A U.S. service member patrols in Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps/Jason W. Fudge)

More than a dozen ballistic missiles have been launched at at least two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops, Pentagon officials confirmed Tuesday night.

 The attack, officials said, was by Iran, apparently in response to the Jan. 3 U.S. strike that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

In a statement released just after 7 p.m. Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said the attack had begun roughly 90 minutes earlier, targeting multiple bases.

"Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq," he said. "It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. military and coalition personnel at Al-Asad and [Erbil]."

Hoffman said officials were still developing initial battle damage assessments.

"In recent days and in response to Iranian threats and actions, the Department of Defense has taken all appropriate measures to safeguard our personnel and partners," Hoffman said. "These bases have been on high alert due to indications that the Iranian regime planned to attack our forces and interests in the region."

Iran’s Tasnim news agency, which has close ties to the IRGC, reported that IRGC units targeted Al Asad but made no mention of attacks on other U.S. bases.

“Tens of surface-to-surface missiles” were fired from Iran to hit Al Asad, the outlet said, adding the exact number of missiles launched was not immediately known.

A defense official said later that Iran fired a total of 15 missiles into Iraq. Four failed in flight, 10 struck Al Asad and one hit Erbil, the official said.

There were also reports that the U.S. base at Taji in Syria on the Jordanian border also may have been attacked. The defense official said the U.S. was aware of the reports about Taji, but could give no immediate confirmation.

There were no immediate reports of casualties, an official said of the missile attacks, but “we have yet to do assessments on the ground.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley were at the Pentagon when the first reports of the Al Asad attacks came in, and both later went to the White House to join Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in briefing Trump, who has warned of a fierce U.S. response.

In President Donald Trump’s first public comments since the attacks broke out, he said assessments of casualties and damages continue.

“All is well!” the commander in chief tweeted after the defense secretary and other advisers reportedly left the White House.

“So far, so good!” he added, referring to possible casualties. “We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far!”

After Esper and Milley had briefed Trump,  a senior defense official declined comment on whether the Iranian missile launches were an act of war.

“That’s something we’re not going to get into” while battle damage assessments were still underway, the official said.

The official also declined to state whether there were any casualties to U.S. or coalition troops at Al Asad and Erbil. He noted that as Iranian threats escalated, U.S. commanders “put our forces in appropriate force protection postures.”

As the first reports of Iranian missile launches came in, Esper and Milley immediately met with all members of the Joint Chiefs on a potential U.S. response, the official said.

Senior members of Congress also were notified and Esper made a series of phone calls to coalition and NATO members. Both Esper and Milley then went to the White House to meet with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on the attacks, the official said.

There were initial reports that Trump was preparing to address the nation on the attacks, but the official said that plan was scrapped.

Milley and Esper are meeting on Capitol Hill Wednesday with members of the Senate in closed session on the Iran crisis as they await the president’s direction on the next move, the official said.

Al Asad is the main hub for the U.S. train, advise and assist mission against the Islamic State. Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, is home to an air base housing U.S. military members as well as a U.S. consulate.

Hoffman said the U.S. military would take "all necessary measures to protect U.S. personnel as well as American partners and allies in the region.

"Due to the dynamic nature of the situation, we will continue to provide updates as they become available," he said.

The strike follows the end of a three-day mourning period in Iran for Soleimani.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the umbrella group for the Quds Force led by Soleimani took credit for the attack in statements reported by Iranian media. 

Official Press TV in Iran said the IRGC also "has warned the U.S. of more crushing responses" if the U.S. retaliates.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that "we are aware of the reports" of the attack on Al Asad and "the president has been briefed."

There are roughly 6,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, according to a Washington Post report this month. It's not clear how many are currently stationed at Al Asad. Vice President Mike Pence visited the base over Thanksgiving in 2019; President Donald Trump spoke to troops there during a visit after Christmas in 2018.

Last week, troops at Al Asad held a mass casualty drill. Army medics treated mock wounds to improve readiness in the event of a mass-casualty incident, according to Defense Department photos.

U.S. troops' presence in Iraq was already in question this week after a letter, which Pentagon officials say was only a draft, suggested the American troops would withdraw from the country. The Iraqi parliament had voted a day earlier to expel U.S. forces, which was largely viewed as backlash over the decision to kill Soleimani in Baghdad.

Iraqi forces are collocated alongside coalition troops at Al Asad.

-- Hope Hodge Seck  and Gina Harkins contributed to this report.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at richard.sisk@military.com.

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