Three Killed in Attack on Camp Taji, Iraq
Was Iran Behind Rocket Attack on Coalition Base?
Two Americans and a British servicemember have been killed in a rocket attack on Camp Taji, Iraq, with 14 more reported wounded.
U.S. Central Command spokesman, Capt. Bill Urban, confirmed the deaths of the two U.S. servicemembers. The British MOD has identified the UK fatality as a serving member of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). Among the 14 wounded were U.S. and coalition troops, and a contractor.
The attack came late Wednesday evening, with a modified truck firing 30 Katyusha rockets, 18 of which landed in Camp Taji.
The deceased had been deployed to Iraq as part of ongoing operations in the region under the umbrella of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR).
Iraqi military officials, who were the first to share word of Wednesday’s rocket attack, tweeted photos of the abandoned truck, which they said was found nearby.
Popular Mobilization Units (Hashd al-Sha’abi) Responsible
U.S. officials have so far declined to publicly assign blame for the attacks, saying the investigation is ongoing. But a military official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the U.S. believes Iranian-backed militias, known as Popular Mobilization Units (Hashd al-Sha’abi), are responsible.
It would not be the first time Iranian-backed militias in Iraq targeted U.S. and coalition forces, and Wednesday’s attack could signal the start of renewed hostilities.
This past December, a similar attack by the Kataib Hezbollah militia killed a U.S. contractor at a base near the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
The U.S. responded with a series of retaliatory strikes, culminating this past January with the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, the Iran Quds Force commander who oversaw the militias, in a strike in Iraq.
Iran retaliated by firing more than a dozen ballistic missiles at the al-Asad airbase, which hosts U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq, causing more than 100 U.S. troops to suffer from traumatic brain injuries.
Since the Iranian missile attack, the Pentagon has been negotiating with the Iraqi government to send in Patriot missile defense batteries.
Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. forces in the region, said the U.S. was “in the process of bringing in” the missile defense systems, and warned the threat from Tehran had not diminished.
“Ample intelligence indicates the [Iranian] regime’s desire to continue malign activities,” he said. “Going forward it is CENTCOM’s objective to posture forces in the region with the operational depth to achieve a consistent state of deterrence against Iran.”
Britain Wednesday condemned the latest attack, calling it deplorable and said it was consulting with the U.S.
“Our servicemen and women work tirelessly every day to uphold security and stability in the region — their presence makes us all safer,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement. “We will continue to liaise with our international partners to fully understand the details of this abhorrent attack.”
“Today’s deadly attack on Iraq’s Camp Taji military base will not be tolerated,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, added in a Tweet late Wednesday, saying the U.S. and Britain agree “those responsible must be held accountable.”
There were also indications that retaliatory strikes might be under way.
Several reports from Syrian state media and social media accounts claimed unidentified planes hit a series of targets in Albukamal, Syria, near the border with Iraq.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the strikes targeted the headquarters of Iranian-backed militias, killing at least 18 people.
U.S. officials said they were aware of the reports but told Reuters that the U.S. had not launched any strikes in the area at the time.
Camp Taji Attack Update
U.S. defense leaders said Thursday, 12 March, they know who launched the rockets in Iraq that killed and wounded U.S. and coalition troops and the Shia militia group responsible will be held accountable.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters at the Pentagon that he spoke with President Donald Trump on Wednesday night and has the authority to do what he needs to do.
“We’re going to take this one step at a time, but we’ve got to hold the perpetrators accountable,” Esper said. “You don’t get to shoot at our bases and kill and wound Americans and get away with it.”
Esper and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to provide any more information about any impending U.S. retaliation for the attack at Camp Taji north of Baghdad.
Sources: VoA; DoD; MOD.
Image: a U.S. Army paratrooper assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division pulls security during a base defense exercise on Camp Taji, Iraq, Jan. 19, 2020. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Caroline Schofer.