BAGHDAD, Nov 21 (Reuters) – U.S. forces were attacked at an air base west of Baghdad on Tuesday and a U.S. military aircraft responded in self-defence, killing a number of Iranian-backed militants, U.S. officials said.
Ain al-Asad air base was attacked by a close-range ballistic missile that resulted in eight injuries and minor damage to infrastructure, two U.S. officials said.
The United States responded using an AC-130 aircraft already in the air and it hit an Iranian-backed militia vehicle and a number of personnel involved in the attack, said Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokesperson.
She added that the aircraft was able to determine the point of origin and hit the militants because they were able to keep an eye on their movements.
This is the first public retaliation on Iraqi territory to the recent militant drone and missile attacks on U.S. troops, but Singh said there had been previous responses that had not been announced.
The United States had so far limited its response to the 66 attacks against its forces in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, claimed by Iran-aligned Iraqi militia groups, to three separate sets of strikes in Syria.
At least 62 U.S. personnel have suffered minor injuries or traumatic brain injuries in the attacks.
The attacks began on Oct. 17 and have been linked by Iraqi militia groups to U.S. support for Israel in its bombardment of Gaza following attacks by Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel.
The attacks against U.S. targets have ended a year-long unilateral truce that Iraqi factions, some formed in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion to fight U.S. troops and others in 2014 to fight Islamic State, declared with Washington.
Social media accounts linked to Iran-aligned Iraqi militias published a statement in the name of the “Islamic Resistance in Iraq” mourning a member who they said had been killed in battle against U.S. forces on Tuesday, without elaborating.
His killing is the first reported casualty in Iraq linked to the Gaza war, which has drawn in other factions in Iran’s network of regional militias, known as the Axis of Resistance, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The United States has 900 troops in Syria and 2,500 in Iraq on a mission it says aims to advise and assist local forces trying to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State, which in 2014 seized large swaths of both countries before being defeated.
Reporting by Timour Azhari in Baghdad and Phil Stewart and Ali Idrees in Washington; Writing by Timour Azhari; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Alexandra Hudson, Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Porter
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