Smoke rises following an Iranian ballistic missile strike at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on January 8, 2020, in a screenshot of a video recently released by the U.S. military. (US Central Command)
Flames rolled over bunkers where US troops took cover at an Iraqi air base 13 months ago, as Iranian missiles carrying 1,000 pound warheads rained down on them.
“We are going to burn to death,” Army Maj.Alan Johnson said, recalling the sudden attack on Al Asad air base in Anbar province, in an interview with CBS 60 Minutes on Sunday.
Johnson and five others rushed towards another bunker as another missile arrived, which sounded “like a freight train passing by you.” Of nearly two dozen theater ballistic missiles fired at two bases in the early hours of January 8, 2020, nearly a dozen struck al Asad and at least one hit an Erbil air base housing US forces.
The U.S. Central Command on Monday released two minutes of unclassified drone footage it provided to the news program showing the al Asad attack. Tehran launched the barrage in retaliation for a US drone strike days earlier in Baghdad that killed Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, head of its elite Quds force.
Surveillance video indicates that multiple missile strikes damaged or destroyed aircraft hangars, offices, living spaces, gymnasiums, mess rooms and other facilities along the base’s flight line.
It was the largest ballistic missile attack ever against Americans, 60 Minutes’s David Martin reported, and it brought the United States dangerously close to war with Iran.
CENTCOM boss Gen. Frank McKenzie told Martin the strike could have killed up to 150 Americans and destroyed 30 planes if the US-led coalition hadn’t taken action to put people out. of danger in advance.
“If Americans had been killed it would have been very different,” McKenzie said. “We had a plan to fight back if Americans died. “
The United States had indications of an impending attack, including knowledge that Iran had purchased commercial satellite images of the base, and moved many of al Asad’s nearly 2,000 troops to other bases. or in the nearby desert. CBS also broadcast footage of the strike taken by soldiers in tactical vehicles positioned outside the base.
Although the attack did not spill any American blood, more than 110 people suffered traumatic brain injuries, including Johnson, who was one of 28 Purple Heart medals.
“The only thing I can really find is that the hand of God has protected us,” Johnson said. “Because really no one should have gone through this.”