The Slatest

Thirty-Four U.S. Troops Were Diagnosed With Brain Injuries After Iranian Missile Attack

A U.S. soldier in uniform walks through a field of rubble.
U.S. soldiers clearing rubble at the al-Asad military airbase in western Iraq on Jan. 13.
Ayman Henna/Getty Images

On Jan. 8, the world held its breath to see if an Iranian missile attack on bases in Iraq had caused any casualties. It took two weeks to find out.

The Pentagon now says that more than 34 U.S. service members were diagnosed with concussions and brain injuries after the Jan 8 missile strike, which, it was initially reported, had caused no U.S. casualties. This also comes more than a week after initial reporting that either eight or 11 troops had been injured.

Eighteen of the 34 diagnosed with traumatic brain injury were removed from Iraq for treatment in Germany or Kuwait. Seventeen are still under medical observation, in either Germany or the United States. The rest have returned to active duty.

After tweeting “All is well!” on the night of the strike, President Donald Trump followed up with a statement the next day, saying: “No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime. We suffered no casualties.” It’s quite likely he believed this was true at the time. While the military has become more diligent about testing for concussions in recent years, there are still some issues in how these injuries are reported and symptoms don’t always show up immediately.

Still, it’s clear that the Pentagon and administration have not been forthcoming about this situation for at least a week, if not longer. Worse, Trump, speaking to reporters in Davos, Switzerland, this week, dismissed the injuries as “headaches,” saying, “I don’t consider them very serious injuries, relative to other injuries that I’ve seen.” The statement was quickly condemned by the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. (Strangely enough, this is not even Trump’s first foray into brain injury denialism.)

The injuries complicate the administration’s narrative of this month’s military clash with Iran. According to that narrative, the drone strike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the Iranian missile strike were meaningless symbolic gestures that showed Iran was standing down. Initial reporting after the missile strike suggested that Iran had deliberately targeted its missiles to avoid U.S. casualties. But a senior U.S. commander in Iraq told reporters on Tuesday that one of the missiles that hit the al-Asad base landed just yards from a bunker with a U.S. service member in it. This was a much closer call than it appeared at the time.

The facts are clear: The Trump administration purposely escalated tensions with Iran with a strike based on scanty or nonexistent intelligence, U.S. service members were put in danger—and in some cases seriously injured—as a result, and the administration tried to downplay or deny those injuries.

Even amid the slew of administration outrages on display this month, this should stand out.