Waves of ballistic missiles, soldiers hunkered down in bunkers for hours, intense shock waves -- a top US commander said he reacted to Iran’s unprecedented attack against an Iraqi base with “disbelief”.
In an exclusive interview with AFP at the Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq, Lt. Colonel Tim Garland said his superiors had given him “a couple hours of advance warning” last Tuesday night that an attack by Iran was coming.
“My first reaction was shock, initial disbelief,” he said, sceptical that Iran would be capable, and willing, to conduct a bold attack on Ain al-Asad.
The airbase was targeted in retaliation for the US killing top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.
The base is one of the largest in Iraq, with 1,500 US troops making up the bulk of a coalition presence directly adjacent to thousands of Iraqi forces.
Getting those forces to safety was an act of quick thinking and coordination across the army and air force commanders at Ain al-Asad, Garland said.
By 11:00pm (2000 GMT), US and coalition forces had evacuated from their sleeping quarters and offices, and were hiding out either in fortified bunkers or dispersed across the base.
They waited, tense, for over two hours. But not even their commander expected the strength of the blasts that came next.
“When the first round came in, it was the loudest, most powerful noise I’ve ever heard,” Garland told AFP.
When the strikes quietened around 4:00am, commanders and soldiers emerged from their bunkers to fires burning across the base. “How they survived was a miracle of God,” Garland remarked.