Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley said Wednesday during a briefing that an Iran missile attack on Iraqi bases with U.S. troops stationed there was “intended to kill personnel.”
“In my professional assessment, at al Asad there were, as you know, 16 missiles, 12 impacts; 11 landed at al Asad,” Milley told reporters. “Points of impact were close enough to personnel and equipment and so on and so forth. I believe based on what I saw, and what I know, is that they were intended to cause structural damage; destroy vehicles, equipment, and aircraft; and to kill personnel.”
He added that it was his own personal assessment but that “the analytics is in the hands of professional intelligence analysts, so they’re looking at that.” The missile aimed at Erbil landed outside the base, and there is no way to determine what it intended to hit, he said.
Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper said U.S. troops got a heads-up about the incoming missiles from early warning systems.
“We had a heads-up in the sense that our warning systems and all those things were activated and watching and were able to give us sufficient warning,” Esper said. “I’d commend the commander on the ground for all the defensive measures he took to minimize the effects of the missiles, and testimony to that is that we had no casualties.”
Milley’s assessment contradicts media reports that suggested that Iran purposely avoided hitting U.S. personnel to avoid escalation with the United States. Media personality Geraldo Rivera gave Iran “credit” for the attack failing to do damage on Twitter.
Give Iranians credit for their prudence last night. They missed on purpose.
Also praying there is no connection between what was going on last night with the missile strikes and the #ukraineplanecrash that killed 176 innocent passengers & crew.
— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) January 8, 2020
“Give Iranians credit for their prudence last night,” Rivera tweeted. “They missed on purpose.”
“Also praying there is no connection between what was going on last night with the missile strikes and the #ukraineplanecrash that killed 176 innocent passengers & crew,” Rivera tweeted, referring to a Boeing 737 that crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran on Wednesday.
CNN’s Nic Robertson called Iran’s alleged plan “smart diplomacy”:
Iran’s choice of target is significant. If it wanted to kill lots of American soldiers in Iraq there were easier bases to strike.
I’ve been to al-Asad airbase — it’s vast and it’s remote. Strikes there could find plenty of dead ground away from troop bunkers and would have little risk of civilian collateral killings.
Iraqi military commanders had been warned by Iran to stay away from US bases and US officials confirm their troops, too, had adequate warning to shelter from the attack.
Iran is trying to have its cake and eat it. Create the impression of a fearsome strike for domestic consumption without actually risking escalation.
CNN reported the same theory, citing unnamed “multiple administration officials”:
There is a growing belief among some Trump administration officials that Iran’s missiles intentionally missed areas populated by Americans when they targeted two Iraqi bases housing US troops early Wednesday local time, multiple administration officials said.
Iran fired a number of missiles aimed at the bases in retaliation for the American strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani last week, further escalating tensions between the two countries. Officials have said there were no US casualties as a result of the attacks, though a full assessment is underway.
The administration officials floated the notion that Iran could have directed their missiles to hit areas that are populated by Americans, but intentionally did not. And they suggested Iran may have chosen to send a message rather than take significant enough action to provoke a substantial US military response, a possible signal the administration was looking for rationale to calm the tensions.
CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh reported the missile strikes “were clearly not an act designed to kill the most Americans possible”:
It is perhaps the most brazen attack Iran has launched against the United States in four decades of simmering covert and overt conflict.
Iran will have known that the troops are normally asleep in the early hours of the morning. Choosing to attack then likely minimized the number of personnel roaming around the base who could be killed or injured.
The missile attacks don’t make sense if Tehran’s goal was to really hurt US troops in large numbers — as some had been pledging to do.
Bloomberg News also added this idea to its reporting that it was part of Iran’s strategy to avoid U.S. casualties: “One White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the early thinking was the missile strike was a perfunctory move that would let Iran retaliate without incurring a potentially devastating U.S. counter-assault.”
Iran’s missile launches came in response to the U.S. strike killing Iranian terrorist leader Qasem Soleimani.
In remarks to the nation earlier Wednesday, President Donald Trump did not comment on why no Americans were hurt but described the attack as Iran “standing down.”
Follow Penny Starr on Twitter.