AIN AL-ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq (Reuters) – The troops at the Iraqi air base that suffered the worst part of Iran’s first direct missile attack against US forces said they were surprised by their intensity and grateful to leave unscathed.
US soldiers are seen at the site where an Iranian missile hit the Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq, January 13, 2020. REUTERS / John Davison
The magnitude of the damage at the Ain al-Asad base showed Iran’s destructive capacity at a time when US officials say they are still worried that Iran-backed groups across the region can launch attacks against the United States.
“It is miraculous that no one has been injured,” Lt. Col. Staci Coleman, an American air force officer who runs the airfield, said Monday at the vast base in the western Anbar desert in Iraq, where 1,500 Americans were deployed.
“Who do you think they will launch ballistic missiles … and will not suffer casualties?”
The January 8 attack came hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the United States should expect reprisals for the murder of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone attack in Iraq the week previous.
The murder raised fears of a new war in the Middle East, but the United States, Iraq and other countries with troops at the base said no one was injured. American military leaders have said that it was thanks to commanders on the ground, not to Tehran’s good will.
On one site, a cruise missile had left a large crater and incinerated homes made with shipping containers.
Heavy concrete walls were knocked down and shipping containers were broken and charred along with the contents, including bicycles, chairs and other furniture. Several soldiers said one of them had been very close to being flown into a shelter behind the walls of the explosion.
Nearly a dozen missiles reached the air base, where US forces carried out “dispersion plans” to move soldiers and equipment to a range of fortified areas separated from each other.
The United States had no Patriot air defenses at the base, which was up to local commanders to protect their troops.
“We received a notification that there could be an attack a few hours earlier, so we had moved the equipment,” said US staff sergeant. UU. Tommie Caldwell
To see a graph about Iran attacks US forces, click here
“IT’S LIKE TERROR”
Lieutenant Colonel Coleman said at 10 p.m. All the staff he drives were ready to take cover. “People took this very seriously,” he said.
Three and a half hours later, the missiles began to arrive. Several soldiers said they continued for two hours.
Sergeant Armando Martinez, who had been outdoors to detect victims, said he could not believe how easily a missile leveled the concrete walls.
“When a rocket hits that is one thing; but a ballistic missile is like terror,” he said.
“You see a white light like a shooting star and then, a few seconds later, it lands and explodes. The other day, after the attack, a colleague saw a real shooting star and panicked. ”
A missile fell on the asphalt of a parking and service area for Blackhawk helicopters that helped transport equipment in the fight against the insurgents of the Islamic State.
The helicopters had been moved, but destroyed two light hangars and very damaged gutter rails nearby.
“We must have been in the bunkers for more than five hours, maybe seven or eight,” said Kenneth Goodwin, First Sergeant in the United States Air Force. “They knew what they were targeting at the airfield and the parking area.”
It was the last attack against an air base that has taken a prominent place in visits by senior US officials to Iraq.
“After these missile attacks, when we hear about possible militia rocket attacks, we tend to think, ‘Oh, just rockets … that’s a change,'” Coleman said, describing the common feeling when missile attacks They ended up as “total relief.” “.
On Sunday, the Iraqi army said four people had been injured in an attack on the Balad air base in northern Iraq, which also houses US personnel. Military sources identified the wounded as Iraqi soldiers.
Graphic: Iran fires missiles at US forces in Iraq – here
John Davison Report; Written by Philippa Fletcher; Edition by David Goodman