The Iranian regime fired 16 ballistic missiles into Iraq on Jan. 8 at bases housing American troops. With no ballistic missile interceptors in range, U.S. forces could only watch and wait for impact. While no American or coalition partners were killed in the attack, next time could be different.
Iran launched its missiles from three sites in Iran, with 11 striking a base in Ain al-Asad and one hitting a base in Erbil. The lack of casualties should not lull planners into a false sense of security. A closer look at the attack demonstrates the need for additional ballistic missile intercept capacity.
Why did Tehran pick these targets? Since Qassem Soleimani was killed in Iraq, the idea of striking U.S. forces in Iraq was almost certainly appealing to Iranian leaders. Additionally, for domestic consumption, Iran’s leadership wanted to present dramatic images of the Iranian military launching a barrage of ballistic missiles toward U.S. troops.
But Iran may have chosen Ain al-Asad and Erbil specifically because the bases lacked ballistic missiles defenses. Images of American defenses destroying the incoming Iranian missiles would have severely undercut Tehran’s political objectives for the attack.
By creating a risk of interception, American missile defenses not only protect American lives, they complicate adversary military planning by injecting additional operational constraints, unknown variables and political risk. In short, robust U.S. missile defenses directly undermine our adversaries’ investments in missiles.
Yet, while the U.S. has defense systems capable of protecting the bases at Ain al-Asad and Erbil, the bases remained vulnerable because the U.S. lacks sufficient ballistic missile defense intercept capacity. (end of excerpt)
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U.S. Troops Describe ‘Miraculous’ Escape At Iraqi Base Attacked by Iran (excerpt)
(Source: Reuters; published Jan. 13, 2020)
AIN AL-ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — Troops at the Iraqi air base that bore the brunt of Iran’s first direct missile attack against U.S. forces said they were shocked by its intensity and grateful to emerge unscathed.
The scale of the damage at the Ain al-Asad base showed Iran’s destructive capability at a time when U.S. officials say they are still concerned that Iran-backed groups across the region could wage attacks on the United States.
“It’s miraculous no one was hurt,” Lt Col Staci Coleman, the U.S. air force officer who runs the airfield, told reporters on Monday at the vast base deep in the western Anbar desert in Iraq, where 1,500 Americans were deployed.
“Who thinks they’re going to have ballistic missiles launched at them … and suffer no casualties?”
CNN’s Arwa Damon was the first journalist to access Al-Asad US military base in Anbar province, Iraq, following an Iranian ballistic missile attack. Soldiers recounted their actions during the attack and shared their feelings of trauma in the aftermath.
The Jan. 8 attack came hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the United States should expect retaliation over the U.S. killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Iraq the previous week.
The killing raised fears of a new Middle East war, but the United States, Iraq and other countries with troops at the base said no one was hurt. U.S. military leaders have said that was thanks to commanders on the ground, not Tehran’s goodwill.
At one site, a cruise missile had left a large crater and incinerated living quarters made from shipping containers. (end of excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Reuters website.