Donald Trump to send Patriot missiles to Iraq after 64 US troops injured in Iran attack

Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Washington had requested permission from the Iraqis to take the defence system into their country. The United States did not have Patriot air defences at the al-Asad air base in Iraq which was pounded by at least 11 of Iran’s ballistic missiles on January 8 in response to Mr Trump’s assassination of top military commander Qassem Soleimani.

While no personnel at the site were killed, the strikes triggered massive blasts which wounded US troops.

Mr Esper said on Thursday: “We need the permission of the Iraqis.”

He said securing their permission was one factor slowing the repositioning of the air defences.

And he said top figures in the US military were discussing more tactical issues, like where best to place the additional defences.

Seeking to bring in extra defences for US servicemen and women in Iraq comes as the US is seeking to bolster its military presence in the troubled region.

Last year the US moved Patriot batteries to Saudi Arabia.

Tehran had been expected to retaliate against the US over the killing of its top general, likely using ballistic missiles.

Thanks to US intelligence, the Pentagon gained hours of warning time that allowed it to move troops to bunkers that were strong enough to prevent loss of life or limb when the Iranian missiles struck, US officials said.

However, the bunkers were not designed to prevent traumatic brain injuries caused by massive blasts. 

The injuries so far have been categorised as “mild.”

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The number of service members diagnosed with such injuries to the brain has increased to 64.

President Trump drew criticism for appearing to play down the soldiers’ sufferings.

Last week Mr Trump said he had “heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things”.

An American veterans’ group and lawmakers hit out at the Republican president for seeking to dismiss the seriousness of the situation.

Of the 64 service members who have been diagnosed, 39 had returned to duty, the military said.

Mr Esper defended the president’s response.

He said: “I’ve had the chance to speak with the president.

“He is very concerned about the health and welfare of all of our service members, particularly those who were involved in the operations in Iraq, and he understands the nature of these injuries.”

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said: “Patriot batteries, Patriot battalion is not a small organisation. 

“It’s relatively large, so the mechanics of it all have to be worked out and that is in fact ongoing.” 

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