AIN AL-ASAD BASE – 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 about the threat. 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. Half way 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 180 kilometers (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.