The Iranian missile attacks on two bases in Iraq were meant to kill U.S. troops and inflict major damage although they caused no casualties, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Wednesday.
The ballistic missile launches "were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment, and to kill personnel. That's my own personnel assessment," Milley said of the Tuesday night attacks which hit Al Asad airbase in Anbar province and Erbil in the Kurdish autonomous region.
At an off-camera Pentagon briefing, both Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper gave a description of the attacks, appearing to rebut speculation that the Iranians may have intentionally missed targets to avoid an overwhelming retaliatory strike.
"My assessment is that they were intentional, given what was hit, the aim points," Esper said. The avoidance of casualties was "more due to the defensive techniques our forces used" than the intent of the Iranians, Milley said.
Esper and Milley also corrected the initial count of the number of missiles launched given by defense officials. A total of 16 missiles were fired from three locations in Iran, Esper said, rather than the 15 cited Tuesday night by a defense official.
Eleven hit Al Asad, one hit Erbil and four failed in flight, Esper said. He said U.S. forces in Iraq were still on high alert and were "poised and ready" for any additional actions by Iran.
Esper said damage assessments were still being conducted, but preliminary estimates indicated that tents, taxiways and possibly a helicopter and other property were damaged at Al Asad. Milley said there was no damage assessment at Erbil since the one missile landed outside the base.
Both Milley and Esper gave assessments of the way forward in dealing with Iran that appeared to be more guarded that those President Donald Trump gave earlier the same day in an address from the White House.
Trump said the absence of casualties could indicate that Iran was "standing down" from a confrontation with the U.S.. But Esper and Milley said they were focused on deterring future attacks by Iran or proxy groups.
"It's too early to tell" whether Iran will refrain from another attack to avenge the Jan. 3 U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani, Milley said.
"We've got to see what happens in the succeeding days and months," he said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.