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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

US troops in Iraq injured in attack linked to Iran-backed militias

By Eric Schmitt and Alissa J. Rubin

At least two U.S. service members stationed in western Iraq were injured Saturday when their air base came under heavy rocket and missile fire from Iran-backed militias, as the ripple effects of the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip continued to roil the Middle East.

Ever since Hamas, also an ally of Iran, charged into Israel and carried out terror attacks on Oct. 7, Israel has retaliated with an overwhelming and ferocious offensive, and groups sympathetic to Hamas’ cause have attacked Israeli and U.S. targets.

A U.S. official cautioned that initial information was sketchy and that the number of injured could grow as damage reports from officers in Iraq are passed up the chain of command. A number of U.S. military personnel were being evaluated for traumatic brain injuries. An Iraqi soldier was injured, said Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, the military spokesperson for Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani.

The attack against the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq, which came at 6:30 p.m. local time, were the latest and the most serious of roughly 140 such rocket and missile strikes against U.S. troops based in Iraq and Syria since the Israel-Hamas war started. At least 10 rockets and seven short-range ballistic missiles were fired at the base, with two making it through air defense systems, in the most successful attack the militias had carried out so far. The attack was another example of the region being pulled into a broader conflict.

Israel and Hezbollah, another Iranian ally, have traded fire across the Lebanese border. A Houthi militia in Yemen, also backed by Iran, has fired missiles and drones at commercial ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, calling it a retaliation for the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. The United States and its allies have fired back, striking inside Yemen multiple times.

The hostilities have spread from there. In recent days, Iran fired missiles into Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, calling it a defensive strike against terrorist groups, but also claiming to have gone after an Israeli intelligence base. Pakistan said it had swiftly struck back with airstrikes inside Iran.

Then on Saturday, Iran accused Israel of launching an airstrike on the Syrian capital, Damascus, that killed five Iranian military figures. Soon after, the missile and rocket barrage hit U.S. troops at the air base in Iraq.

The Ain al-Asad air base, in Iraq’s western desert, is now primarily used by Iraqi forces but still has a U.S. contingent. In all, there are 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq and 900 in Syria, helping to support Iraq and Kurdish Syrian forces in the fight to tamp down the remains of the Islamic State group. U.S. officials in Washington said Saturday that it was not immediately clear if the militia attacks in Iraq were related to the earlier strikes in Syria.

There have been 140 militia attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria in the past three months, with 57 in Iraq and 83 in Syria, Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokesperson, said Thursday.

Nearly 70 U.S. personnel have suffered injuries in the attacks, including traumatic brain injuries, but all but a handful of the troops have been able to return to duty relatively quickly, Pentagon officials have said.

Iranian-linked militias in Iraq, known collectively as the Axis of Resistance and who count themselves as part of Iran’s network of allies across the Middle East, claimed in a statement that this latest attack was a response to Israel’s war in Gaza. There was no mention of the strike in Syria.

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