11 U.S. Troops Were Injured In Iran Rocket Attacks On Iraq Bases

Jan 17, 2020
Originally published on January 17, 2020 8:08 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Shortly after 11 missiles slammed into al-Assad airbase in Iraq last week, President Trump tweeted, quote, "all is well," and he said there were no American casualties. Days later, at a rally in Milwaukee, Trump described his conversation with military officials in the wake of the attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I said, how many killed? Nobody, sir.

(CHEERING)

TRUMP: I said, how many hurt? They said, nobody, sir.

(CHEERING)

KELLY: But we now know 11 service members needed medical attention for possible head injuries. NPR's Tom Bowman is with me now.

Hey, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: So we heard the president say it clearly in that tape, the official line was nobody got hurt. Then a few days ago, news organizations, including NPR, got to visit this base and talk to soldiers. Is that part of what is adding to our knowledge of what, in fact, happened?

BOWMAN: Right. What's adding to the knowledge is the website Defense One came out with a story basically saying that, you know, 11 soldiers were being treated for - you know, needed more urgent care and were going to Landstuhl Hospital in Germany and also to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. Now, no one ever said that early on. And, you know, as we know, a casualty is defined as anyone who is killed or wounded by hostile fire. The administration, the Pentagon said no casualties. They still can't say that because these soldiers are still being treated.

KELLY: And just unravel how this story has shifted. You said Defense One broke the news that these soldiers were, in fact, being treated in Germany. I mean, how did they get this and how has the story shifted?

BOWMAN: Well, we don't know how they got it, but we do know that a couple of hours after the Defense One report, the military statement came out saying it was deemed appropriate to transport those soldiers to a higher level of care. Eight of them went to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and three others to this Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.

Now, Landstuhl, Mary Louise, is the most advanced military hospital in Europe. And I reached out to retired Brigadier General Steve Xenakis about all this. He's a psychiatrist and concussion expert. And I asked him, you know, what does it mean that they went to Landstuhl? And he said it's clearly very serious. They likely showed certain symptoms of possible brain injuries.

KELLY: Now, this, of course, has implications for - there's still several hundred Americans at this base, at al-Assad Base in Iraq, and the Iranians are still talking about further retaliation for the U.S. drone strike that killed their general, Qassem Soleimani. What is being done to make sure that the troops still there have better defenses, should more Iranian missiles be incoming?

BOWMAN: Well, we really don't know. We've been told that they will beef up defenses. No details on that. And what you really need in a situation like this is a Patriot missile system - that's designed to shoot down ballistic missiles. The al-Assad base did not have that system. And, you know, our reporter in Iraq, Jane Arraf, says to install that Patriot defensive system, you would have to get Iraqi government approval because the U.S. is limited only to going after ISIS.

So we're still not even sure if they will beef up defenses at al-Assad. As you say, there are still several hundred Americans there, and they could get more missile attacks from Iran.

KELLY: Yeah. And just to be clear, the line has not shifted. The U.S. is still saying no U.S. troops killed. These are head injuries that are being treated.

BOWMAN: That's exactly right. No one killed. But again, as far as a casualty that includes wounded...

KELLY: Sure.

BOWMAN: ...We still don't have an answer to that.

KELLY: OK. That is NPR's Tom Bowman. He covers the Pentagon for us.

Thank you, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.