Early on Wednesday, Iran launched a barrage of missiles at two American military bases in Iraq. The attacks began at 1.20 am, the same time that Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani was killed by a US missile in Baghdad on Friday, Iranian officials said — and hours after the remains of the general reached his hometown Kerman for burial.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posted on Twitter that the US had been “slapped…, but such military actions are not enough; the corruptive presence of the US in the region of West Asia must be stopped”. President Hassan Rouhani tweeted: “Our final answer to [Soleimani’s] assassination will be to kick all US forces out of the region.”
As of December 2019, the US had an estimated 6,000 soldiers in Iraq. After Soleimani was assassinated, Iraq’s Parliament voted to throw the Americans out of their country — and President Donald Trump responded with a threat of sanctions “like they’ve never seen before ever”.
What was the scale of Iran’s attack?
NUMBER OF MISSILES: The US Department of Defence said in a statement that Iran had launched “more than a dozen ballistic missiles” that “targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting US military and coalition personnel”.
Western media reports quoted unnamed Iraqi military officials as saying Iran had fired 22 missiles. The editor-in-chief of Mashregh, the IRGC’s main news website, said more than 30 ballistic missiles had been fired at the Ain al-Asad air base, one of the two bases that were targeted.
CASUALTIES: Late on Wednesday evening (India time) President Donald Trump confirmed that the United States had not suffered any loss of lives. He had tweeted earlier that “all is well!”, the “assessment of casualties & damages [were] taking place now”, but “so far, so good!”
Other countries who have troops in Iraq — Australia, UK, Denmark, Poland, Sweden — also said that none of their service members had been killed.
However, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, in an account headlined “US army sustains heavy casualties in Iran missile attacks”, said “some 80 US army personnel have been killed and nearly 200 more wounded” in the reprisal attacks.
Where are the two bases that were hit?
AIN AL-ASAD: This vast air base is located in Iraq’s western al-Anbar governorate, about 160 km west of Baghdad, and nearly 220 km from the border with Syria. The base, for long a major hub for US military operations in western Iraq, has also hosted Danish and British troops. In 2015, as the Islamic State swept through Iraq and Syria, Iraqi forces repelled an IS attack on Ain al-Asad.
In 2017, as the US entered the war against the IS, some 500 American military and civilian personnel were stationed at the base, including, a report in The New York Times said, a shock trauma medical unit, a targeting cell, a Navy SEAL Special Operations task force, and a company of Marines. After the defeat of the IS in 2019, the base scaled down, but it still houses significant numbers of soldiers, who are now helping train Iraqi security forces.
Trump visited the base along with his wife Melania on December 26, 2018. On November 23, 2019, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen paid a thanksgiving visit to US troops at the base.
ERBIL: The other base that came under attack, is located in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq. The base is adjacent to the city’s airport, which American transport aircraft, gunships, and reconnaissance aircraft have used for operations in northern Iraq and eastern Syria. The base has been a Special Operations hub to hundreds of American and other allied troops, logistics personnel and intelligence specialists throughout the fight against the IS, The NYT reported.
In October 2019, commandos stationed at the base launched the operation that ended with the death of the leader of the IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who detonated a suicide vest after being cornered in a compound outside the village of Barisha in northwestern Syria’s Idlib governorate.
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