“Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now,” Trump tweeted late Tuesday, confirming that Iran had struck two military bases in Iraq. “So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well-equipped military anywhere in the world, by far!”
The president said he would make a statement about the missile strikes on Wednesday morning.
Iran began striking the al-Asad and Erbil bases on Wednesday morning local time. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the Iranian armed forces, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement to the press, saying it was carried out in the name of Major General Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated by the United States in a drone strike last week.
“The fierce revenge by the Revolutionary Guard has begun,” the IRGC said in a statement Wednesday, according to The New York Times.
The missiles were fired just hours after Soleimani’s body was returned to his hometown for burial.
The Pentagon said it was still evaluating the damage from the strikes, noting the pair of bases had been on high alert after Iran’s threats. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper rushed to the White House shortly after the strikes began to meet with Trump.
The IRGC warned the US and its allies not to retaliate further after the base attacks.
“We are warning all American allies, who gave their bases to its terrorist army, that any territory that is the starting point of aggressive acts against Iran will be targeted,” it said in a statement carried by Iran’s state-run news agency.
Iranian officials also said the strikes were meant to be a “proportionate” response to Soleimani’s death.
“We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression,” Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, wrote on Twitter.
Tehran had pledged to respond in a “crushing and powerful manner” after Trump ordered the killing of Soleimani, one of the most powerful military figures in the Middle East. Within days of that attack, the nation also ended its remaining commitments to limit nuclear fuel production as part of the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump had attempted to stave off any retaliation after Soleimani’s death, warning that the American military had identified 52 targets in Iran ― including cultural sites ― should Iran attack US assets. Critics noted that targeting cultural sites would be a war crime in defiance of international law even as the president initially doubled down on his vows. (He walked back the remarks on Tuesday after the Pentagon said such targets were not on the table.)
The Associated Press noted that the al-Asad airbase is a major outpost in Iraq’s Anbar province that was first used by U.S. troops after the 2003 invasion of that country to overthrow Saddam Hussein. American forces have been stationed there during the campaign against the self-described Islamic State.
More than 5,000 U.S. troops are currently in Iraq as part of that effort. Trump visited the al-Asad base in December 2018.