Two military bases attacked by at least a dozen Iranian missiles late Tuesday have hosted President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the past year or so, and Trump appeared to refer to one of them this week when he threatened Iraq with sanctions if it tried to expel U.S. troops.
The Pentagon confirmed missile strikes on the Ain Assad Airbase in western Iraq and a base in Irbil in northern Iraq. It was unclear late Tuesday whether there were casualties.
“It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Irbil,” said Pentagon spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman. “We are working on initial battle damage assessments.”
President Donald Trump addressed the strikes in a tweet.
“All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now,” he wrote. “So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far!”
Why did Iran attack the bases?
Iran said the strikes were retaliation for last week’s killing of top Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in an airstrike ordered by Trump.
In a Twitter post, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the strikes were “proportionate measures in self-defense under Article 51 of UN Charter targeting base from which cowardly armed attack against our citizens & senior officials were launched.”
Article 51 of the United Nations Charter gives nations the right to self-defense.
Were there casualties?
There was no official word of casualties Tuesday night, but it was still dark in Iraq.
Both bases host U.S. and coalition forces assigned to fighting the Islamic State. The Pentagon did not immediately release the names of the units stationed at the bases and referred inquiries to Central Command, which didn’t respond.
“It was a massive attack with ballistic missiles,” said a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly.
It appears a hangar might have been damaged at Ain Assad, where roughly 1,500 coalition troops are based.
The United States has about 5,000 military personnel in Iraq.
Increased US-Iran tensions
Tensions between the United States and Iran increased sharply after the killing of Soleimani in an airstrike ordered by Trump on Thursday.
Iran vowed to retaliate, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Monday it would come directly from Iranian forces, rather than proxies.
Soleimani’s killing sparked mixed reactions among world leaders. Russia offered condolences to Iran for Soleimani’s death, China urged restraint, and American allies such as the United Kingdom and France called for both sides to avoid escalating the confrontation.
Democratic members of Congress said Soleimani’s killing had the potential to inflame conflict in the region and called on Trump to seek congressional authorization for further military action.
Trump and Pence have visited the bases
Ain Assad Airbase, located west of Baghdad in Anbar Province, is the site of Camp Flores, where Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence served Thanksgiving dinner to U.S. service members last year.
Ain Assad was first used by American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein. It became the second-largest U.S. airbase in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom, which ended in 2010, according to a U.S. Marines article.
Pence also visited Irbil Airbase, located in Iraqi Kurdistan. He addressed troops and discussed the fight against the Islamic State.
“With your courageous service here at Irbil Air Base, you’ve taken the fight to radical Islamic terrorism on our terms, on their soil,” Pence said at the time.
Happy Thanksgiving from Iraq. @SecondLady and I are so honored to be with our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines here in Iraq! We are so proud of you and thankful for you all! pic.twitter.com/bzcM1fGgiG
— Vice President Mike Pence (@VP) November 23, 2019
Trump and First Lady Melania Trump made a surprise visit to Ain Assad Airbase just after Christmas 2018.
Trump spent about three hours on the ground in Iraq, meeting with soldiers in a dining hall and addressing a large group of troops in a hangar. Speaking about the fight against the Islamic State, he said, “We’ve knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly.”
Sunday, as outrage built over Soleimani’s killing, Trump appeared to refer to Ain Assad Airbase when he threatened sanctions on Iraq if the U.S. were forced to leave the country.
“We’ve spent a lot of money in Iraq,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he returned to Washington after spending the holidays at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. “We have a very extraordinarily expensive airbase that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. … We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”
Trump said in a tweet that he would make a statement on the attacks Wednesday morning. He is also scheduled to receive his intelligence briefing on Wednesday, according to a copy of his schedule released by the White House.
Trump administration officials — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire — will appear on Capitol Hill to give classified briefings to members of Congress about the United States’ killing of Soleimani.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that the House of Representatives would debate and vote on legislation to limit Trump’s war powers. The legislation will mandate military hostilities with Iran cease within 30 days unless further congressional authorization, such as a declaration of war, is taken.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., has introduced similar legislation in the Senate. It’s unclear if the House and Senate would be able to override a likely veto from Trump.