1st Cavalry Soldier, Air National Guardsman ID'd as Troops Killed in Rocket Attack

Staff Sgt. Marshal Roberts
Oklahoma Air National Guardsman, Staff Sgt. Marshal Roberts, was killed Wednesday, March 11, 2020, during a rocket attack in Iraq. Roberts served with the 219th Engineering Installation Squadron, 138th Fighter Wing, which is deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. (Courtesy photo by the Roberts family)

The Defense Department has identified two service members who were killed Wednesday during an enemy rocket attack on Camp Taji, Iraq.

Army Spc. Juan Miguel Mendez Covarrubias and Air Force Staff Sgt. Marshal Roberts died in the strike at the base north of Baghdad, the Pentagon said Friday.

Mendez Covarrubias, 27, was posthumously promoted to specialist. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, at Fort Hood, Texas.

Roberts, 28, was assigned to the 219th Engineering Installation Squadron of the Oklahoma Air National Guard in Tulsa.

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U.S. officials believe the attack was carried out by the Iranian-backed Kata'ib Hezbollah; roughly 18, 107mm Katyusha rockets struck the base in the attack, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

Also killed was British Lance Cpl. Brodie Gillon, a 26-year-old medical technician who served with the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry.

The incident is under investigation, officials said.

On Thursday, the U.S. launched retaliatory strikes on multiple locations in Iraq following Wednesday's attack on Taji, which hosts U.S. and coalition personnel for train-and-advise missions.

Fighter jets hit five locations, mainly targeting Kata'ib Hezbollah weapons facilities, the Pentagon said in a statement, as reported by The Associated Press.

The U.S. counterattack followed a stern warning from the defense secretary hours earlier.

"Let me be clear: The United States will not tolerate attacks against our people, our interests, or our allies," Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters during a Pentagon briefing. "All options are on the table as we work with our partners to bring the perpetrators to justice and maintain deterrence."

Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said Friday that the Shia group supported by Iran has been involved in at least 12 rocket attacks on coalition forces within the last six months.

The group's strike on Taji injured 14 additional U.S. and coalition troops, he said.

"We have effectively destroyed these facilities and expect that they no longer contain the type of advanced Iranian-supplied weapons that were used in the [Kata'ib Hezbollah] attacks," McKenzie said of the U.S. airstrikes.

Katai'b Hezbollah figured in several attacks that led to a Jan. 3 U.S. drone strike at Baghdad's International Airport that killed Iranian Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani.

On Dec. 26, rocket attacks blamed on Katai'b Hezbollah hit an Iraqi compound near central Kirkuk and killed a U.S. defense contractor and wounded several U.S. troops. The U.S. responded with airstrikes on Iranian-backed militia positions on the Iraq-Syria border.

The airstrikes were followed by violent demonstrations in Baghdad and attempts to breach the gates of the U.S. Embassy on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Soleimani was killed Jan. 3. On Jan. 8, Iran launched at least 12 ballistic missiles at the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq's Anbar province.

McKenzie said Friday that Esper signed off on his request to extend the deployment of two Navy carrier strike groups -- the USS Harry S. Truman and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower -- in the region for enhanced deterrence, lengthening dual U.S. carrier operations in CENTCOM for the first time since April 2012.

"I would caution Iran and its proxies from attempting a response that would endanger U.S. and coalition forces or our partners," McKenzie said during a briefing at the Pentagon. "We have the flexibility, capability and will to respond to any threat."

-- Richard Sisk contributed to this report.

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

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