US Will Not ‘Shy Away’ From Retaliation for Attack on Iraqi Air Base

Top U.S. officials said Wednesday that the United States would not “shy away” from responding to the latest rocket attack on U.S. and coalition personnel in Iraq with military force, if necessary.Assailants launched rockets at the al-Asad air base in western Iraq’s Anbar province early Wednesday, defense officials said, with at least 10 rockets hitting inside the compound.One U.S. civilian contractor died after suffering a heart attack while taking shelter from the attack.FILE – This Dec. 29, 2019, aerial file photo shows the al-Asad air base in the western Anbar desert, Iraq.Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Wednesday that Iraqi security forces were leading the investigation, adding that it was still too early for any attribution.“Let’s let our Iraqi partners investigate this, see what they learn, and then if a response is warranted, I think we have shown clearly that we won’t shy away from that,” he said. “But we’re just not there yet.”Kirby said the initial investigation indicated the rocket attack against al-Asad was launched from multiple locations to the east of the air base.He also said the base’s defenses, including a counter-rocket system, activated, although it was not yet clear whether the system hit any of the incoming devices.Wednesday’s incident at al-Asad was the latest in a series of rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias on bases in Iraq that house U.S. and coalition forces. It also came less than a week after U.S. President Joe Biden ordered an airstrike against a compound in eastern Syria, which U.S. officials said the militias had used to facilitate those attacks.At the time, Biden said the strike was meant as a warning to Iran that it “can’t act with impunity.”FILE – A damaged roof is seen after a barrage of rockets hit in and near Erbil International Airport, in Erbil, Iraq, Feb. 16, 2021.Arrests in earlier attackSeparately, there appeared to have been some progress in efforts by officials in Iraq charged with tracking down those responsible for the February 16 rocket attack against Erbil International Airport, which killed a contractor and injured a U.S. servicemember.The Kurdistan Region Security Council announced Wednesday that after working with both Iraqi federal authorities and the U.S.-led coalition, it had arrested two men involved in the attack.Officials also released a video confession of one of the suspects, Haider Hamza.In it, Hamza admitted to working with the Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada militia, adding, “The rockets were made in Iran.”Iraqi Kurdistan counterterrorism officials have not yet named a second suspect, also in custody, and said a search was underway for two other men believed to have taken part in the Erbil attack.Ahmad Zebari and Dilshad Anwar of VOA’s Kurdish Service contributed to this report.   

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