A U.S. artillery defensive system protecting U.S. and coalition forces at an Iraqi air base that came under attack this week struck down three or four incoming rockets before they hit, a defense official told McClatchy on Thursday.
A Pentagon issued a statement later and confirmed that four rockets were struck.
Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq is a large training and logistics hub for U.S.and coalition forces. It was targeted by approximately 10 short range rockets on Wednesday, resulting in the death of one U.S. contractor who had a heart attack while sheltering from the attack.
Al-Asad’s Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM) missile defensive system “engaged” with the incoming rounds and early assessments had indicated it hit three or four of the 122 mm rockets, the defense official told McClatchy.
“We assess that C-RAM effectively engaged four of the ten rockets that impacted the base. None of the rockets made direct hits on any structure or vehicle. There was some minor shrapnel damage that will not have any impact on operations at Al Asad,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Jessica L. McNulty in a statement.
There were ten known locations where the base was hit, the defense official said, and it was not clear if more than ten rockets were fired, or if the rockets that were struck down by C-RAM were responsible for some of the ground damage.
The Defense Department has not said who is responsible for the attack, and Iraqi officials are still investigating it.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday pledged to identify who is responsible for the attacks and hold them responsible.
In the last several weeks attacks on Iraqi military bases housing U.S. and coalition troops, including a rocket attack in February at the U.S. military base in Erbil, that the Pentagon has attributed to Iranian-backed militias has spurred further U.S. military action.
Last week, two F-15E Air Force fighter jets dropped seven precision-guided munitions on known militia sites in Syria.
Defense Department press secretary John Kirby on Wednesday said Iraqi security forces were taking the lead in investigating this latest al-Asad attack.
A year ago al-Asad was hit by a dozen short-range Iranian ballistic missiles that were fired by Iran in response to the targeted U.S. strike against Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a U.S. airstrike ordered by former President Donald Trump.
Updates with Pentagon statement confirming C-RAM strikes hit four rockets.