Injuries in Iran missile attack on US suggest luck helped prevent war – Business Insider

  • Luck played a big role in preventing a war between the US and Iran this month. 
  • Initially, President Donald Trump claimed no Americans were hurt in an Iranian missile attack on US forces in Iraq, but the US military has since admitted there were US troops suffered minor injuries on top of extensive damage to the al-Asad air base.
  • 11 US service members who reported symptoms of concussions at al-Asad have been evacuated to military hospitals. US officials have said the intent of the attack was to kill but no troops died as a result.
  • Trump has said that any Iranian act that kills an American would trigger a massive retaliation. This makes it likely that if any Americans had been killed, the US-Iran confrontation could’ve spiraled into a bloody, disastrous war. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The US and Iran came dangerously close to going to war earlier this month, and as more details come out on Iran’s missile attack on US forces it’s becoming clear that luck in large part prevented a wider conflict from breaking out. 

President Donald Trump said that “no Americans were harmed” when Iran launched 16 ballistic missiles at US and coalition forces in Iraq on January 8, but it’s since come to light that this was assessment isn’t true. 

Eleven US service members who were stationed at one of two Iraqi military bases hit in the Iranian missile attack have been evacuated to military hospitals in Kuwait and Germany with concussion symptoms, the US military said on Thursday, contradicting the presidents earlier assertions.

Initial reports suggested that Iran had deliberately missed the locations of US troops in an attempt to de-escalate the stand-off. But US troops at the base have since said it was “miraculous” there were no serious injuries from the attack. Videos of the missile barrage show big explosions whose shock waves could have concussed American troops in fortified shelters nearby.

If any Americans had died in the attack, it could’ve pushed the US-Iran confrontation over the edge and seen it rapidly shift from an escalatory tit-for-tat to an all-out war.

FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the family of the Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, who was killed by an air strike in Baghdad, at his home in Tehran, Iran January 4, 2020. Official President Website/Handout via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visits the family of the Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force, who was killed by an air strike in Baghdad, at his home in Tehran
Reuters


‘We came very very very close to a major war with Iran last week’

Many details on the incident are still hazy, but it seems loss of life was primarily avoided via a combination of chance and the fact US troops took precautions before the missiles landed after a warning by US intelligence.

“The more that comes out the more I realize how lucky we are that no Americans were killed,” Ilan Goldenberg, a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, tweeted on Thursday.

Goldenberg, a former Pentagon official who focused on Iran, added: “We came very very very close to a major war with Iran last week and it seems that it was at least partially dumb luck we didn’t end up in one.”

The Iranian missile attack came just days after Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani — Iran’s most important military leader. 

Trump approved the strike in the early days of 2020 after an Iran-backed militia, Kataeb Hezbollah, in late December killed an American contractor and injured US service members in a rocket attack at a base in Kirkuk, Iraq. The rocket attack prompted US airstrikes, which killed dozens of the militia’s fighters. Subsequently, there were violent protests at the US Embassy in Baghdad.

The combination of these incidents seemed to cross a red line for Trump, and led him to give the thumbs up to the most shocking US decapitation strike on a foreign military leader since World War II. The Soleimani strike led to the only direct attack on US forces or allies that Iran has openly claimed since the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979.

The US and Iran only moved toward deescalation after it was clear that no US forces were killed in the missile attack. 

“Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned and a very good thing for the world,” Trump said in remarks to the nation following the attack. “No American or Iraqi lives were lost because of the precautions taken, the dispersal of forces and an early warning system that worked very well.”

‘It was luck that saved US lives’

There were different layers of warning ahead of the attack.

The US forces stationed at the Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq were on high alert already after the Soleimani strike, but roughly two to three hours before the missiles hit that officials reportedly received an alert to expect an unprecedented attack on the base from Iran. Base officials ordered a lockdown and US troops were split up into smaller groups and sent to shelters and underground bunkers, according to the Washington Post.

Ultimately, the US forces at al-Asad were only given about 15 minutes to head for cover before the missiles landed, The New York Times reported.  

Along these lines, Ranj Alaaldin, director of the Proxy Wars Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Doha, Qatar, earlier this week tweeted, “US forces in Iraq had only minutes notice before Iran launched its barrage of rockets. It was luck that saved US lives.”

Al Asad al-Asad US base hit by Iran missile strike aftermath January 2020

A US soldier stands by wreckage at the Al Asad military base in Iraq, five days after it was bombarded by Iranian missiles.
AP Photo/Qassim Abdul-Zahra


The Iranian attack lasted over an hour, leading to widespread damage at the base.

Early reports on the strike suggested Iran deliberately avoided loss of life in the missile attack to avoid sparking a war, but the Trump administration has since rejected that perception.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on January 10 told reporters there was “no doubt” that Iran had the “full intention” of killing US personnel. And Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Jan. 8 told reporters his personal assessment on the strikes is they “were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft and to kill personnel.”

“These were designed and organized to inflict as many casualties as possible,” Lt. Col. Tim Garland, commander of Task Force Jazeera, a senior official who was on the base the day of the attack, told the Washington Post. Correspondingly, Lt. Col. Staci Coleman, responsible for airfield operations at the base, told the Post it was “miraculous” no one sustained serious injuries. 

Staff Sgt. Akeem Ferguson told CNN that during the attack on al-Asad, in which 11 missiles hit the base, he was “100% ready to die.”

“I held on to my gun and put my head down and I tried to find a happy place, so I started singing to my daughters in my head,” Ferguson said. “And I just waited. I hoped that whatever happened, that it was quick.”

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