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Missile barrage on US base in Iraq leaves personnel being evaluated for brain injuries, officials say

In the latest escalation against U.S. forces in the Middle East, Iranian-backed militias launched a barrage of ballistic missiles and rockets at Al-Assad airbase in western Iraq on Saturday that left several U.S. personnel being evaluated for traumatic brain injuries, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command.

Most of the incoming missiles and rockets were intercepted by the air defense systems at the base, which is used by both the Iraq and U.S. militaries, but some impacted the base, officials said.

"At approximately 6:30 p.m. (Baghdad time) on January 20, multiple ballistic missiles and rockets were launched by Iranian-backed militants in Western Iraq targeting al-Assad Airbase," CENTCOM said in a statement.

"Most of the missiles were intercepted by the base’s air defense systems while others impacted on the base. Damage assessments are ongoing," it added. "A number of U.S. personnel are undergoing evaluation for traumatic brain injuries. At least one Iraqi service member was wounded."

Iraqi police in Babylon discovered a land attack cruise missile of Iranian design that failed to launch on Jan. 3.  (U.S. Central Command)
Iraqi police in Babylon discovered a land attack cruise missile of Iranian design that failed to launch on Jan. 3. (U.S. Central Command)

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Saturday's attack appears to be the largest of the more than 140 attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since mid-October that the U.S. says have been carried out by Iranian-backed militia groups.

Much like the attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden by Houthi militants, the attacks on U.S. bases are said to be taking place in solidarity with Palestinians in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

The vast majority of the attacks in Iraq and Syria have been carried out using Iranian-made drones and rockets, but Saturday's attack included ballistic missiles which have only been rarely used in the attacks and are seen as escalatory.

It is unclear how the United States will respond to this latest attack on U.S. forces in Iraq which have in the past triggered retaliatory airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias.

On Jan. 4, a U.S. military drone strike in Baghdad killed a senior leader of one of those militias that have also been incorporated into the Iraqi military's command structure.

That strike led to calls for the U.S. to pull out the 2,500 troops still in Iraq as part of the decade-old mission to counter the Islamic State terror group.

An additional 900 U.S. troops are also deployed to Syria to prevent a resurgence by the Islamic State, according to the Pentagon.

Missile barrage on US base in Iraq leaves personnel being evaluated for brain injuries, officials say originally appeared on abcnews.go.com