Survivors describe Iranian missile attack on Al Asad Airbase
David Martin reports on the attack that nearly caused war between the U.S. and Iran, on 60 Minutes TV program.
On January 8, 2020, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) attacked the Al Assad military airbase in Iraq, a facility operated jointly by US and Iraqi forces, with dozens of missiles on Wednesday.
“In Operation Martyr Soleimani in the early hours of Wednesday, dozens of surface-to-ground missiles were fired at the US base and successfully hit the Ain al-Assad Base,” the IRGC said in an official statement.
“This bombing of US bases is simply the beginning of a series of revenge attacks with no deadline,” added the IRGC statement.
“We warn all countries allied to the United States that if attacks are launched from bases in their countries against Iran, they will be the target of military retaliation,” he added.
Eleven missiles, each carrying a warhead weighing more than 1,000 pounds, slammed into Al Asad Airbase in Iraq where 2,000 U.S. troops and scores of aircraft were based. General Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, recalled that night, telling David Martin, “Things are happening that could take us to war if we don’t make the correct move here.”
60 Minutes has obtained unreleased drone footage of those incoming warheads which an Army major said were “Like a freight train going by you.” Martin’s report will include first-hand accounts of the bombardment from survivors.
Iran launched the attack in retaliation for an American drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani, its most powerful military officer, six days before. McKenzie tells Martin that then-President Trump ordered the strike on Soleimani because he was planning attacks against Americans in Iraq. “We saw intelligence reports where Qassem Soleimani was moving various attack streams forward against our forces in Iraq, against our embassy and against other bases there… Perhaps in hours, perhaps in days, probably not weeks,” McKenzie says.
When U.S. intelligence detected Iranian preparations for the missile attack, McKenzie had enough time to evacuate the base of 1,000 troops and 50 aircraft. McKenzie says without the evacuation, “I think we might have lost 20 or 30 airplanes and we’d have lost 100 to 150 U.S. personnel,” adding, “We had a plan to retaliate if Americans had died.”
Iran fired a total of 16 missiles – five missed and 11 struck Al Asad. “It was an attack certainly like nothing I’ve ever seen or experienced… Their missiles are accurate,” McKenzie says. “They hit pretty much where they wanted to hit.”
There was no defense against the missiles for the troops who remained at the base except to take cover. Army Major Alan Johnson tells Martin, “We start heading down maybe 135 meters, make it about a third of the way there, the Big Voice we call it, clicks in, ‘Incoming, incoming, take cover, take cover, take cover.’ I’ve got another football field to run. I don’t know when this next missile’s going to hit.” The missiles sounded, “Like a freight train going by you.” Johnson describes cramming roughly 40 people into a bunker designed to protect just ten people from much smaller munitions.
More than 100 of the troops who rode out the attack at Al Asad that night were diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury from the blasts. Johnson says he still has headaches, ringing in his ears and nightmares. He doesn’t know how he survived. “Luck. The only thing I can actually come up with is that hand of God protected us. Because, really, nobody should have lived through this.”