More than 80 US soldiers were killed and some 200 wounded in Iranian missile strikes on a major US airbase in western Iraq early on Wednesday, reports said citing a source close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
Hours later, US President Donald Trump said in a televised address to the nation that Washington is not planning an immediate military response since the Iraqi missile attacks did not harm any American soldier. However, the US will impose punishing new economic sanctions on Iran, he added.
The attack comes hours before Iran’s Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in Qom that the US must leave a region that does not accept its ‘corruptive’ presence anymore and President Hassan Rouhani said Iran will cut off America’s foot from the region after the body of its top military commander Lt Gen Qassem Soleimani was torn to pieces in a US drone attack.
In the offensive codenamed Operation Martyr Soleimani, some 15 missiles hit the US air base in Ain al-Assad, a strategic site for the US to support drones, the source said. Another US military base near Erbil airport in Iraqi Kurdistan Region was also targeted.
The airstrikes pounded 20 key targets at the airbase destroying many UAVs and helicopters.
Although US forces had been on high alert after Soleimani’s killing last Fridayi, they could not defend themselves against IRGC’s airstrikes.
Iran has identified 104 strategic US-held points in the region as potential targets if Washington hits back, the source said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the Aerospace Force of IRGC gave a “proportionate” response to the killing of Gen Soleimani by targeting a base from which the US forces were launching attacks against Iranian citizens and senior officials.
Iran does not seek war but will defend itself against any aggression, Zarif said.
Chief of Staff of Iran’s Armed Forces Maj Gen Mohammad Bagheri said the US will face harsher response if it conducts any further mischief.
Senior IRGC commander, Brig Gen Esmaeil Kosari, said the attack on the US airbase was just a warning to US officials to rein in their “gambler president.”
Responding to the missile attacks, President Donald Trump initially tweeted that all was well adding Pentagon was assessing the casualties and damage.
Hours later, addressing the nation, he claimed no US casualties and no plans for military action. Allaying war fears, Trump said he is ready for peace with Iran if that country seeks it.
Iran appears to be “standing down” after the retaliation and that is a good sign, he said.
Iran had informed Iraqi interim Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi about the impending attack on the US airbases and Mahdi conveyed it to Washington.