US strikes again at militants after attack on Iraq's Al Asad Air Base

This is the first US attack inside Iraq since the Israel-Gaza war began, with all other retaliatory strikes carried out in Syria

Iraqi mourners carry the coffin of Fadel Al Maksousi, a Kataib Hezbollah fighter, who was reportedly killed in the US strikes on Tuesday. AFP
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US forces responded early on Tuesday and Wednesday to an attack on Ain Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, a US defence official told The National, with Central Command saying one operation resulted in "several enemy casualties".

The official said US forces “responded in self-defence against those who carried out the strike” on Tuesday after an attack resulted in “minor injuries to US personnel and damage to infrastructure”.

While the official declined to give more details, they confirmed it had occurred amid reports of an air strike that struck a pick-up truck belonging to an Iran-backed Shiite militia in Iraq, west of Baghdad.

The vehicle was travelling on a motorway near Baghdad’s western suburb of Abu Ghraib when it was struck about 4.30am, two Iraqi security officials told The National. They did not give more details.

Centcom later confirmed Tuesday's military action in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, saying “an AC-130 gunship engaged individuals responsible for launching a missile attack on US and coalition personnel at Al Asad Air Base”.

“The gunship maintained visual confirmation of the individuals from the time of the launch to the time of engagement,” Centcom said of its retaliatory operation.

“This strike resulted in several enemy casualties.”

Centcom also announced in a post on X that, on Wednesday, US forces "conducted discrete, precision strikes against two facilities in Iraq", as part of its continuing response to what it claims to be Iranian-backed attacks.

Centcom did not provide more details on what kind of aircraft or artillery were used in the later strikes, and if there were any fatalities.

The attacks are the first by the US inside Iraq since the Israel-Gaza war began.

Previously, the US had only conducted retaliatory air strikes against militia sites in Syria.

Tuesday's attack is also the first US attack that was not previously planned since attacks on personnel in the region began in mid-October, Pentagon deputy spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said.

The US used an aircraft that was already in the air and had eyes on the militants.

The Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a network of Iran-backed militias, claimed responsibility in a Telegram post for the attacks on the base, along with another on Al Shaddadi in Hasakah, Syria.

Pentagon spokesman Brig Gen Pat Ryder in a statement confirmed at least eight injuries as part of the strike on Al Asad Air Base.

Brig Gen Ryder said the militias used "a close-range ballistic missile" in its attack.

Earlier, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq announced the death of a fighter with Kataib Hezbollah, one of the largest Iran-backed paramilitary groups in Iraq.

The statement did not give details on when or how he was killed, but said he died in the “battle for the righteousness against falsehood of the forces of the American occupation in Iraq”.

A legislator close to Shiite militias confirmed the fighter was killed in the Abu Ghraib attack, accusing US troops of being behind his death.

On Tuesday afternoon, militiamen held a funeral in Baghdad for the killed fighter, identified as Fadhil Al Maksousi.

Dozens of militiamen in military uniform carried the wooden casket, wrapped in the flag of Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq.

Hours later, Al Dhafirin militia said in a statement that it had attacked Ain Al Asad base with mortar rounds in retaliation for the killing of Mr Al Maksousi.

“Al Dhafirin group within the Islamic Resistance vows more operations and gradual escalation until the last occupying soldier leaves this sacred land,” it said.

After Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on October 7, militia groups linked to Iran began a surge of attacks on bases hosting US troops in Iraq and Syria with drones and missiles.

They also claimed responsibility for attacks in Eilat in Israel.

Militia groups in Iraq have linked the recent attacks on US bases to Washington's support for Israel in its war on Gaza, and say the US should cease backing Israel's assault if it wants the attacks to stop.

Analysts say the militias are operating under the banner of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, a front organisation that includes powerful groups such as Kataib Hezbollah, which is thought to have killed hundreds of US forces during the 2003-2011 US occupation.

The US has 900 troops in Syria and 2,500 in neighbouring Iraq, on a mission it says aims to advise and assist local forces trying to prevent a resurgence of ISIS, which in 2014 seized vast areas of both countries but was later defeated.

Updated: November 22, 2023, 1:05 AM