Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Hastily Departs USO Tour Amid Iranian Strikes

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Gen. John Hyten appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill on July 30, 2019, for his confirmation hearing to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Gen. John Hyten appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill on July 30, 2019, for his confirmation hearing to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

ABOARD A C-17 OVER EUROPE -- Air Force Gen. John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was called back to Washington, D.C., from Europe on Wednesday following Iran's recent escalated activities in the Middle East.

Hyten, who was kicking off his first USO tour in Romania and Poland as vice chairman, was summoned to the Pentagon after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. military and coalition forces at Al Asad Air Base and Erbil on Tuesday night. Military.com was accompanying the general -- previously the head of U.S. Strategic Command -- and other military officials on the trip.

"At the request of Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, [Hyten] returned to the Pentagon after hosting the first portion of an annual USO tour," said Maj. Trisha Guillebeau, Hyten's spokeswoman.

"Returning senior staff members to the Pentagon is a standard practice during times of dynamic world events and a prudent action given Gen. Hyten's role as Vice Chairman. The USO Tour will continue and, upholding tradition, provide entertainment for service members overseas, even during times of crisis," she added.

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

U.S. officials said Iran's attack Tuesday was conducted in response to the Jan. 3 U.S. strike that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

"Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said following the missile attack. "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]."

Defense officials told Fox News on Wednesday that the U.S. did not attempt to shoot down the missiles.

CNN reported that Iraqi military commanders were given advanced notice to shelter during the strike.

The onslaught began a few hours after Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters in a Pentagon briefing that the U.S. is taking steps to avoid war with Iran, but is "prepared to deliver a forceful response to defend our interests."

"As we defend our people and interests, let me reiterate that the United States is not seeking a war with Iran," he said. "But we are prepared to finish one."

Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was killed at Baghdad's International Airport last week in what U.S. officials called a "decisive defensive action" to protect American personnel and diplomats in the region, saying that he was planning imminent attacks on U.S. interests.

Esper said it was fair to characterize the planned attacks as "days away" at the time of Soleimani's death.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

-- Richard Sisk contributed to this report.

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