The Army is bringing back a medal for service in Iraq, coming just as U.S. troops there have faced increased threats and attacks amid the new Israel-Hamas war.
Last week, the service resurrected the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal specifically for service in Iraq, according to an internal service memo and confirmed by a service spokesperson. The medal was introduced in 2016 and also covered service in Syria, even as the nature of those campaigns changed and conventional U.S. forces had a less active role in ground combat.
The medal's criteria changed last year to be exclusive to deployments in Syria, where the U.S. has kept a small force of roughly 900 troops and most recently the 10th Mountain Division deployed over the summer to relieve the Ohio National Guard's 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
The return to a campaign decoration for service in Iraq comes as troops are under increased rocket and drone attacks from Iran-backed militias. Last week, four U.S. service members were injured at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries from the concussion waves. Another 15 troops also suffered traumatic brain injuries in Al-Tanf Garrison in Syria.
It's unclear whether the medal has been approved for the other military services yet. The Pentagon did not return a request for comment.
American troops have been attacked on at least 14 occasions in Iraq and 9 in Syria since Oct. 17, according to a defense official, who spoke to reporters Monday.
In retaliation, two U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcon jets and one F-15E Strike Eagle jet bombed ammunition and arms storage facilities used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and proxy forces in Syria last week. American troops have also destroyed several drones in recent weeks, including two in Syria and one in Iraq.
The attacks from drones are part of the evolving threats to forces in that region, which American units are developing new doctrine and technology to counter. During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. and other coalition forces faced virtually no threat from air attacks, with improvised explosive devices placed on roads and pathways being the weapon of choice for insurgent groups.
The U.S. is beefing up firepower in the region with numerous Army air defense units, including a terminal high-altitude area defense, or THAAD, battery from Fort Bliss, Texas; Patriot batteries from Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Patriot and Avenger batteries from Fort Liberty, North Carolina; and elements from Fort Bliss and Fort Cavazos, Texas.
In addition to boosting defense capabilities against drones and rockets, U.S. officials aim to deter more groups such as Iran-backed proxies from joining Israel's war with Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, amid fears that the conflict could escalate.
Over the weekend, Israel started its ground assault in what is expected to be a close-combat slog in the densely populated Palestinian territory.
Meanwhile, the American presence in Iraq is a far cry from the peak of its presence during the mid-2000s, with conventional troops often being siloed in large, well-protected bases supporting training for allied Iraqi forces. But the small footprint of troops at facilities in Iraq, as well as Syria, supporting efforts to eradicate the remnants of the Islamic State terrorist group still face potentially serious injuries.
Brain injuries have become a significant concern in the military in recent years. A Military.com investigation reported in detail the link between concussions and mental health. Veterans with those brain injuries are three times more likely than the general population to die by suicide. Those injuries can also lead to constant fatigue and forgetfulness, among other conditions that can be debilitating.
In one instance, then-President Donald Trump downplayed Iranian missile strikes on troops at the al-Asad base in Iraq in January 2020, first reporting that no one had been injured, then saying that troops simply got "headaches" and that it was "not very serious." Ultimately, more than 100 soldiers suffered traumatic brain injuries, many of whom did not get their Purple Hearts for two years.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.