The Pentagon said Tuesday that Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at two Iraqi bases that hold US troops in response to the US airstrike that killed a top Iranian general last week.
The attack comes days after the US killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. The administration has sought to cast that strike as an attempt to de-escalate tensions with Iran, but Tehran has vowed revenge for the killing, which it says was an “act of war” and “state terrorism.”
Jonathan Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesperson, said Tuesday evening that Iran launched more than a dozen missiles at the al-Asad airbase, which houses US troops, and American and coalition forces in the town of Erbil. Hoffman said the Pentagon is assessing the damage done by the attacks.
“In recent days and in response to Iranian threats and actions, the Department of Defense has taken all appropriate measures to safeguard our personnel and partners,” Hoffman said in a statement. “These bases have been on high alert due to indications that the Iranian regime planned to attack our forces and interests in the region.”
“As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend U.S. personnel, partners, and allies in the region.”
Qatri al-Obeidi, a commander in the nearby town of al-Baghdadi, said that the shelling has stopped for now. President Donald Trump visited the base in December 2018 to visit troops after Christmas. Vice President Mike Pence also visited the base in November 2019. The attack follows last week’s deadly US drone strike that Trump ordered to kill Soleimani.
Iranian state TV reported that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, “has hit U.S. Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq with tens of missiles.” The IRGC warned the US of more “crushing responses in case of new aggression,” according to state TV. The IRGC said it will target any regional state that becomes a platform for US aggression, a second banner on state TV read.
CNN reported earlier on Tuesday that US forces and air-defense missile batteries across the Middle East were placed on high alert overnight Monday to possibly shoot down Iranian drones as intelligence mounted about a threat of an imminent attack against US targets, according to two US officials.
CNN reported on Friday that part of the intelligence that led to the decision to kill Soleimani included threats to al-Asad airbase.
A source familiar with the intelligence showed the vehicle-mounted rockets, known as Grad trucks, and other military weaponry were moving closer to US interests, particularly the al-Asad airbase, CNN reported.
Other targets of concern included the US airbase in Qatar and US interests in Kuwait. The source noted on Friday that these threats have existed for several months but that the intelligence indicated growing urgency because of how close the missile trucks were getting to US interests.
The attack came hours after US Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CNN Tuesday that the US is not seeking a war with Iran but it is “prepared to finish one.”
“We are not looking to start a war with Iran, but we are prepared to finish one,” Esper said during an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
Trump was briefed on the reports of rocket attacks, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.
“We are aware of the reports of attacks on US facilities in Iraq. The President has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team,” Grisham said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was discussing the situation in Iran when she was handed a note with news of the attack, lawmakers who attended the meeting said.
Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat, said she paused the discussion to tell the members of the Steering Committee of the news.
“Pray,” Pelosi told members, according to Rep. Debbie Dingell.
By Hamdi Alkhshali, CNN