American forces in Iraq came under attack early Wednesday, when rockets struck a base hosting US troops in what looked to be the first wave of expected Iranian counterstrikes in retaliation for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani.
The al-Asad airbase is in Anbar Province, in western Iraq. It was hit, along with a base at Erbil.
The IRGC confirmed that the country had attacked US interests. These strikes were not by proxy. The Iranian military directly attacked US bases from inside Iran.
US officials later said 15 rockets were fired. Four fell from the sky, missing their targets. Trump was briefed and “monitored the situation closely with his national security team”, the White House said.
Around three hours after the (literal) fireworks, Trump sounded an amusingly upbeat tone considering the circumstances. “All is well!”, he exclaimed, on Twitter.
All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 8, 2020
“As we evaluate the situation and our response, we will take all necessary measures to protect and defend US personnel, partners, and allies in the region”, the DoD remarked.
“This morning, courageous fighters of the IRGC’s Air Force launched a successful operation called Operation Martyr Soleimani, with the code ‘Oh Zahra’ by firing tens of ground-to-ground missiles at the base of the terrorist and invasive US forces”, state-run ISNA reported.
Iranian officials said the attack began at 1:20 a.m., the moment Soleimani was killed by an American drone at the Baghdad airport last week. Tasnim subsequently said a second wave of attacks had begun.
Soleimani was officially laid to rest shortly after the strikes – his burial was postponed on Tuesday after a deadly stampede in his hometown left multiple mourners dead.
The IRGC flipped the wording in one of Trump’s recent tweets. “If America responds to these attacks there will be bigger attacks on the way. This is not a threat, it’s a warning”, the Iranians said. Prior to killing Soleimani, Trump told Iran he wasn’t tweeting warnings, but rather threats.
Iranian officials mocked Trump’s American flag tweet from the moments after the general was assassinated, tweeting Iran’s flag.
— Saeed Jalili (@DrSaeedJalili) January 7, 2020
Some were quick to suggest that Iran might have been attempting to “thread the needle” with the strikes, where that means save face without doing something that would risk a bombing campaign or, in an extreme scenario, an outright US ground invasion.
The moment there are US casualties, Trump’s calculus will likely change, but it’s been suggested already that the president understands he left Tehran with no choice but to lash out. Sue Trinh, a global macro strategist at Manulife Investment Management, told Bloomberg that this doesn’t “seem like a serious response” from Iran. Trinh went on to say that if Tehran were to, for example, fire rockets into Israel or strike Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities or bases where US troops are stationed outside of Iraq, that would mean the regime was intent on pushing the envelope.
Mark Esper and the president spent Tuesday cautioning Iran against taking retaliatory action. “The US is not seeking a war with Iran, but we will finish one”, Esper told reporters.
(File photo, Ain Asad air base)
Both the president and administration officials continue to insist that the assassination of Soleimani late last week was necessary to prevent an “imminent” attack on US troops. The commander’s funeral procession drew millions of Iranians into the streets on Monday and Tuesday, a show of national unity just a month removed from some of the worst anti-government protests in recent memory.
Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran’s national security council, said Tuesday that the leadership is pondering 13 separate options for retaliating against the US. “Even if the weakest of these scenarios gains a consensus, its implementation can be a historic nightmare for the Americans”, he said.
Esmail Ghaani – who stepped out of Soleimani’s shadow and into his shoes as Quds commander on Saturday – pledged swift revenge earlier this week, and Khamenei has variously promised to inflict heavy losses on America.
Zeinab Soleimani, the general’s daughter, warned Monday in a televised address to the nation that families of deployed American troops “will be spending their days waiting for the news of the death of their children”.