How hours of forewarning saved US, Iraqi lives from Iran's missile attack
Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq
By midnight, not a single fighter jet or helicopter remained out in the open. U.S. troops even seemed to know the timing of the attack, saying they seemed 'totally aware' the base would be attacked 'after midnight.'
In pic: U.S. soldiers are seen at the site where an Iranian missile hit at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq.
No one was killed
Such accounts add to the evidence that the Iranian attack was among the worst kept secrets in modern warfare – but the reasons why remain mysterious after days of conflicting statements from officials in Iran, Iraq and the United States.
In pic: Blast walls of a sleeping quarters for U.S. soldiers are seen at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq.
By Friday, however, top U.S. officials had rejected that narrative. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told that day that there was 'no doubt' that Iran had the 'full intention' of killing U.S. personnel. That echoed earlier comments from Mark Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who credited U.S. intelligence - rather than warnings or leaks from Tehran - with the advanced notice that allowed U.S. troops to avoid casualties.
What's the confusion?
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards' Aerospace Force, was later quoted in state media saying, “We did not intend to kill. We intended to hit the enemy’s military machinery.” And yet Hajizadeh repeated the spurious claim that the attack had killed U.S. soldiers.
An advisor to Iraq Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi told that Iran did not directly notify Iraq until shortly before the missile strike – but said Iran passed warnings through other countries. The advisor said both Iraq and the United States were warned of the impending strike by one Arab country and one European country, declining the name them.
In pic: Debris and rubble are seen at the site where an Iranian missile hit at Ain al-Asad air base in Anbar province, Iraq.
Who warned those countries?
Iran's Foreign Ministry declined to comment, and its delegation to the United Nations in New York did not respond to requests. The Iraqi prime minister's office and a military spokesman did not respond to requests for comment. The White House declined to comment.
Burned out living quarters, fuel fires
At the sprawling Ain al-Asad base in Iraq's western Anbar desert on Monday, U.S. Air Force and Army teams cleared piles of metal and concrete debris from the airfield and around bunkers using bulldozers and pickup trucks.
One cruise missile had knocked down more than a dozen heavy concrete blast walls and incinerated shipping containers used as living space by U.S. soldiers. Another had destroyed two hangars that normally house Blackhawk helicopters, blasting through offices nearby and causing a fuel fire that lasted hours, U.S. soldiers said.
Debris and rubble at the air base
“I'd received information it was going to be a missile attack, and it was going to be Ain al-Asad," said Lt. Col. Antionette Chase of the U.S. Army. “We were very well-prepared … Ten days prior, we had drilled for a similar attack.”
Still, coalition troops said the attacks did not strike them as a display of restraint from Iran. As one U.S. Air Force officer put it: "If you fire missiles at an air base where people are maintaining aircraft 24/7, you're probably going to kill people."