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May 23, 2024

Missile Attack on US Base in Iraq Injures Troops Amid Rising Tensions

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Jan 20, 2024

At least two US service members were injured in a missile attack targeting American forces at an airbase in western Iraq on Saturday. The attack comes amid rising tensions in the region following recent clashes between Israel and Palestinian militants.

Attack Targets Al-Asad Airbase

The attack occurred early Saturday morning local time, with over a dozen missiles striking the sprawling Al-Asad airbase located in Iraq’s western Anbar province. Al-Asad hosts both Iraqi and coalition forces, including American troops who have been stationed there to help Iraqi forces combat ISIS insurgents.

Sources report that over a dozen missiles struck areas of the base inhabited by US service members. At least two US personnel suffered concussion-like symptoms from the blasts and were being evaluated for traumatic brain injury.

Iran-Backed Groups Suspected

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the missile attack. However, Iranian-backed militia groups are the prime suspects.

Over the past two years, Iran-aligned militias in Iraq have frequently targeted Iraqi bases housing US troops. These groups have sworn to seek the ouster of American forces from Iraq after the US killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in 2020.

Just last week, the US-led coalition in Iraq shot down an armed drone targeting its forces at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center. Iranian-backed factions vowed retaliation for the drone strike.

Escalating Regional Tensions

The attack comes against the backdrop of heightening tensions across the region following recent clashes between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza. An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire went into effect late Wednesday, ending 11 days of fighting that left more than 240 Palestinians and 12 Israelis dead.

However, the truce remains fragile. There are concerns that violence could flare up again if underlying tensions are not addressed.

Over the past week, pro-Iran groups in Iraq have expressed solidarity with Palestinians and threatened attacks on US interests. The attack on Al-Asad base may have been an attempt by one of these factions to capitalize on tensions over the Israel-Gaza conflict to strike American forces.

US Vows Response

In response to the missile attack, the Pentagon stated that the US would not tolerate attacks threatening the safety of its personnel. However, the US is not expected to carry out immediate military retaliation given the minor injuries suffered.

The US will likely turn to Iraqi authorities to try and identify the source of the missile attack and prevent future strikes. But reining in Iran-backed militias could prove challenging for the Iraqi government.

Outlook for Future Attacks

Saturday’s strike demonstrates that pro-Iran groups in Iraq still possess the will and capability to attack US and coalition forces in the country. These factions are unlikely to cease their efforts to undermine the US presence in Iraq anytime soon.

With tensions still simmering after the Israel-Gaza fighting, the risk of another attack on US bases in Iraq in the near future remains elevated. Iranian proxies may see value in carrying out additional strikes while regional tensions are still high.

To mitigate future missile attacks, the US and its partners will need to improve base defenses and work with Iraqi officials to restrict the access of Iran-aligned groups to projectiles capable of reaching coalition facilities. But preventing all attacks will be difficult given the wide availability of rockets and missiles on Iraqi black markets.

US Troop Presence in Iraq

The US currently has around 2,500 troops left in Iraq focused on advising and assisting Iraqi forces battling ISIS remnant networks. Most US forces are consolidated at a handful of Iraqi bases like Al-Asad situated in western Iraq’s Sunni-majority areas.

Year Number of US Troops in Iraq
2003 Over 130,000
2011 Less than 40,000
2014 Around 200
2015 Over 5,000
2024 Around 2,500

The US troop presence in Iraq has gradually declined over the past two decades after reaching a peak following the 2003 US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

In 2020, Iraqi lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution calling for the exit of foreign forces from Iraq after the Soleimani killing. But the Iraqi government still values the support of the US-led coalition to combat an ongoing ISIS insurgency, preventing the expulsion American troops.

However, repeated attacks by pro-Iran militias is fueling calls from Iraqi politicians for US forces to depart the country. If attacks persist, the Biden administration may eventually conclude that the risks to American personnel outweigh the benefits of keeping troops in Iraq.

Conclusion

The missile strike targeting US forces at Al-Asad airbase marks the latest attack in an ongoing campaign by pro-Iran militias to undermine the American presence Iraq. The attack comes as tensions simmer across the region in the aftermath of intense fighting between Israel and Gaza militants.

While Saturday’s strike did not produce any major causalities, the risk of future attacks remains elevated given regional tensions. Preventing all attacks will prove challenging given the vast supplies of rockets and missiles available to armed groups in Iraq.

As attacks persist, pressure will grow from Iraqi leaders for US troops to depart the country, which could eventually lead the Biden administration to withdraw forces. But for now, some US troop presence remains critical to helping Iraq confront an enduring ISIS insurgency that still threatens Iraqi stability.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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