AIN AL-ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq – American troops were informed of an impending missile barrage hours before their air base in Iraq was struck by Iran, U.S. military officials said Monday, days after the attack that marked a major escalation between the longtime foes.
At 11 p.m. on Jan. 7, U.S. Lt. Col. Antoinette Chase gave the order for American troops at Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq, to go on lockdown. Military movements froze as her team, responsible for emergency response at the base, sent out alerts. At 11:30 p.m., she gave the order to take cover in bunkers.
The first strike landed sometime after 1:35 a.m. on Jan. 8 and the barrage continued for nearly two hours. Halfway through the attack, Chase learned the missiles were being launched from Iran.
No American soldiers were killed or wounded, the U.S. has said, although several troops were treated for concussions from the blast and are being assessed, said Col. Myles Caggins, a spokesman at the base for the U.S. coalition fighting the Islamic State group.
“The reason why we pushed it at 2330 is because at that point in time all indications pointed to something coming,” she told reporters touring the base. “Worst-case scenario – we were told was it's probably going to be a missile attack. So we were informed of that.”
The Iranian attack was in retaliation for the U.S. drone strike near Baghdad airport that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3.
An Associated Press crew touring the Ain al-Asad base saw large craters and damaged military trailers. Forklifts lifted rubble and loaded it onto trucks from an area the size of a football stadium. U.S. soldiers inspected portable housing units destroyed in the attack.
The sprawling complex in western Anbar province is about 110 miles west of Baghdad and is shared with the Iraqi military. It houses about 1,500 members of the U.S. military and the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State militant group.
The Iranian attack – the most direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran – raised fears of a wider conflict although both sides have since indicated that they won't seek further retaliation, at least in the short term.
“There were more than 10 large missiles fired and the impact hit several areas along the airfield,” Caggins said. At least 15-30 minutes passed between successive strikes, Chase said.
The attack destroyed facilities that house dozens of soldiers and one missile hit near an airstrip where six drones were parked but caused no damage, he said.
The base received a notification that the missiles were on their way, thanks to early-warning systems, Caggins said, and troops were moved out of harm's way.
Because of the long intervals between barrages, a few curious soldiers peered out to inspect the damage.
“After the first boom, I was confused and so I stuck my head out to see what it was,” said Capt. Jeffrey Hansen, 30, from North Carolina. “The second boom blew a bunch of debris on my face.”
Trump retweets doctored picture
President Donald Trump circulated a fake image Monday depicting congressional Democrats' top-ranked leaders in traditional Muslim attire in front of the Iranian flag, drawing criticism that he was promoting Islamophobic tropes.
The manipulated photo retweeted by Trump showed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in Muslim garb with the caption: “The corrupted Dems trying their best to come to the Ayatollah's rescue #NancyPelosiFakeNews.”
Trump, a Republican, had previously faulted Democrats for criticizing his administration's targeted killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, but his use of Muslim imagery as part of that effort drew pushback from Muslim American advocates.
– Associated Press