Several U.S. Servicemembers Injured In Large Missile Attack At Ain Al-Asad Airbase

Several U.S. Servicemembers Injured In Large Missile Attack At Ain Al-Asad Airbase


Several U.S. Servicemembers Injured In Large Missile Attack At Ain Al-Asad Airbase 

On January 20, Iran-backed militias in Iraq launched their largest salvo of ballistic missiles and rockets at the Ain Al-Asad Airbase in the western Al-Anbar province of Iraq, which stations American troops on a counterterrorism mission. The attack appeared to be a response to Israel’s strikes, earlier that day, in Syria that killed five senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Quds Force operatives. Air defenses at the base intercepted multiple incoming missiles and rockets, however some impacted the base and caused four Americans to receive traumatic brain injuries and an Iraqi to suffer injuries. This attack was a significant escalation, as both the quantity of the projectiles in the salvo and their explosiveness had increased relative to the other over 150 attacks against the U.S. since October 17.  

Late last year, eight U.S. servicemembers were injured in a ballistic missile attack at Ain Al-Assad, prompting the United States’ first use of lethal military force in Iraq since March 2020, when the Trump Administration struck five locations. One of those sites was Kataib Hezbollah’s Jurf As-Sakr stronghold in Iraq, south of Baghdad. 

U.S. Targets Kataib Hezbollah In Airstrikes Against Its Stronghold In Iraq 

On January 24, the U.S. struck three facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah to direct attacks, store weapons and ammunition, and conduct trainings for rocket, missile, and one-way drone attacks. A U.S. defense official speaking anonymously confirmed that the Al-Qaim border town near Syria and Jurf As-Sakr were bombed. The U.S. claimed that the strikes were retaliation for the January 20 ballistic missile attack at Ain Al-Assad, for which it blamed Kataib Hezbollah.  

Iraqi Militias’ Escalation Against The U.S. Military In Iraq Underscores Lack Of Deterrence 

The January 20 ballistic missile attack at Ain Al-Assad was not the first time Iran-backed terrorist groups retaliated against the U.S. for presumed Israeli strikes. In October 2021, a multi-rocket and drone attack at the U.S. base Al-Tanf Garrison in southern Syria was reportedly a response to targeted assassinations of Iranian operatives and a senior Syrian official who was involved in establishing the capabilities of Iran-aligned militant groups near the border with Israel.  

The group responsible for the attacks on Al-Tanf Garrison as well as other attacks against Israel was the ‘Imam Hossein Division,’ a heavily indoctrinated and armed militia group that is tied to the IRGC-Quds Force. Since October 17, Iran-backed militias have conducted over 150 attacks against the U.S., and the U.S. has responded with around seven strikes in Iraq and Syria. Given this deterrence deficit, it is unsurprising that Iran and its proxies chose to retaliate against the U.S. instead of Israel.  

Bilateral Negotiations Over U.S. Troop Presence In Iraq Begin 

Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammad Al-Sudani has publicly adopted the view that the U.S. must withdraw its troops from Iraq. This maximalist position is also held by the Iran-backed Iraqi proxies, which constitute the core of Sudani’s Shia-majority political constituency. The groups have sought to evict the U.S. military from the region—going back as far as the 2003 Iraq War—through proxy attacks and, more recently, through political pressure from the Iran-aligned ‘Coordination Framework,’ which currently dominates the Iraqi parliament.  

Sudani will weigh how to maintain relations with the U.S. even as bilateral discussions on a timeframe for withdrawal have begun. The U.S. State Department reportedly dropped its demand that the Iran-backed militias cease their attacks before the U.S. would engage in the dialogue. However, the ‘Islamic Resistance in Iraq’ umbrella group of the militias—some of which are funded by the Iraqi state as they are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces—have said they will not stop their campaign until their maximalist demands are met.  

While the Iraqi prime minister is aligned with the militias, he also does not wish to damage relations with the U.S., which provides his government with extensive military aid and weapons deals while also countering the Islamic State. Forcing out the U.S. troops could jeopardize these arrangements and even result in U.S. sanctions targeting Iraq, including its lucrative oil trade and its trade with Iran.  

Earlier this month, the Pentagon stated that the U.S. didn’t have plans to withdraw its troops and that the military presence was at the invitation of the Iraqi government. On January 25, however, as the bilateral negotiations were set to begin, the U.S. secretary of defense signaled the U.S. is open to withdrawing some troops from Iraq, which would be a major foreign policy victory for Iran and its proxies, as Iran seeks to dominate the region.  

Israel and the Palestinian Territories 

Fighting Intensifies in Khan Younis, A Key Hamas Stronghold In Southern Gaza 

Khan Younis, a Hamas stronghold and the suspected hiding location of key Hamas leadership, has remained the focus of Israeli military operations in Gaza and the site of heavy gunfire and airstrikes. Khan Younis remains a Hamas stronghold, though the Israeli military had eliminated dozens of its fighters over a 24-hour period on January 23 and found “ready-to-launch rockets, military compounds, shafts, and numerous weapons.” 

That day, Hamas fired a rocket propelled grenade on an Israeli engineering unit in the process of rigging a building to demolish it, detonating the explosives. Twenty-four Israeli soldiers were killed, marking Israel’s deadliest day since the start of the war. 

Israeli Security Forces Conduct 45-Hour Raid In Tulkarem, West Bank 

Israel has seen an uptick in militant activity in the West Bank, prompting it to carry out raids and strikes to prevent the opening of a new front. Hamas and other newly-formed Palestinian terrorist groups have a presence in the West Bank and remain embedded in civilian areas, including refugee camps that have often been the target of Israeli raids. On January 19, Israel completed a 45-hour raid that focused on refugee camps in the West Bank city of Tulkarem and led to the discovery of explosives and bomb-making sites. Since Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attack, Israel has detained 1,300 individuals in the West Bank suspected of having ties to Hamas.  

Lebanon and Hezbollah 

Hezbollah Continues To Flout U.N. Resolution 1701, Launches Attacks On Northern Israel 

Hezbollah has rebuffed diplomatic initiatives aimed toward upholding U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah and required Hezbollah to move its forces out of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah has refused to abide by its commitments, claiming it will continue to launch rockets into northern Israel until there is a ceasefire in Gaza. Israel has used a combination of political and military pressure to resolve this situation, which has forced hundreds of thousands of Israeli residents to evacuate northern Israel, but if diplomacy continues to fail, reports indicate that Israel will likely escalate its military pressure to compel Hezbollah to withdraw its forces.  

On January 23, Hezbollah launched a missile at an IDF base, saying that the attack was retaliation for Israeli targeted assassinations in Lebanon and Syria, a reference to the strikes against Saleh Al-Arouri and Wissam Tawil in southern Lebanon and the strikes that killed five senior IRGC-Quds Force operatives near Damascus last weekend. The IDF said that the base had been slightly damaged in the attack, and that there were no injuries.  


Israel Neutralizes Senior IRGC-Quds Force Officials In An Airstrike In Damascus 

On January 20, Israel conducted an airstrike near Damascus that killed multiple members of the IRGC, including the IRGC-Quds Force’s deputy head of intelligence Sadegh Omidzadeh and his deputy. Brigadier General Omidzadeh, also known as Hajj Gholam, had been identified in leaked documents in the middle of last year that revealed Iran, Syria, and Russia planned to coordinate and increase explosively formed projectile (EFP) attacks against U.S. convoys to pressure the U.S. to withdraw from the region. The airstrikes in Syria come amid a wave of intensifying Israeli aerial assaults in Syria, designed to close down the flow of weapons through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.