More than 100 US troops sustained “mild” traumatic brain injury, far more than originally announced when Iran launched missiles at their base in Iraq last month, the Department of Defense said Monday.
“As of today, 109 US service members have been diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury, or mTBI, an increase of 45 since the previous report,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
Of them, 76 have returned to duty while most of the rest are still undergoing evaluation and treatment.
President Donald Trump had initially said that no Americans were injured in the strike on the Ain al-Asad base in western Iraq on the night of January 7-8, although authorities later reported that 11 troops were injured.
Iran fired ballistic missiles at the base to retaliate for the January 3 US drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani while he was in Baghdad.
Trump was understood to downplay the impact on US troops to help ratchet down tensions between the two countries, amid concerns that a full war could break out.
It was only a week later that reports surfaced that US troops had experienced concussions and other brain injuries.
But the US leader then dismissed the reported injuries as “headaches” and “not very serious.”
“We are grateful to the efforts of our medical professionals who have worked diligently to ensure the appropriate level of care for our service members, which has enabled nearly 70 per cent of those diagnosed to return to duty,” said Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah in a statement Monday.
“We must continue to address physical and mental health together,” she said.
Iran fired “more than a dozen” ballistic missiles Tuesday against two airbases in Iraq where US and coalition forces are based, the Pentagon said.
“At approximately 5.30 pm (2230 GMT) on January 7, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against US military and coalition forces in Iraq,” Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.
“It is clear that these missiles were launched from Iran and targeted at least two Iraqi military bases hosting US military and coalition personnel at Al-Assad and Irbil.”
There were no immediate reports of casualties at the bases.
The attacks came after pro-Tehran factions in Iraq had vowed to “respond” to a US drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad last week.
The White House said in a separate statement that President Donald Trump was “monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team.”
Local security sources told AFP earlier that at least nine rockets had slammed into the Ain al-Asad airbase, the largest of the Iraqi military compounds where foreign troops are based.
Iran claimed responsibility, with state TV saying the Islamic republic had launched missiles on the base.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of Iraq’s Hashed al-Shaabi military network, was killed in the US drone strike alongside Soleiman, seen as the “godfather” of Tehran’s proxy network across the region.
Hoffman said the Pentagon was working on initial battle damage assessments following Tuesday’s airbase attacks.
“In recent days and in response to Iranian threats and actions, the Department of Defense has taken all appropriate measures to safeguard our personnel and partners,” he added.
“These bases have been on high alert due to indications that the Iranian regime planned to attack our forces and interests in the region.”
Hoffman added that the US would take “all necessary measures to protect and defend US personnel, partners, and allies in the region.”
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, said the US “must ensure the safety of our service members, including ending needless provocations from the Administration and demanding that Iran cease its violence.”
“America and world cannot afford war,” she added.
Her Democratic House colleague Eliot Engel, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN however the attacks “could very well” mean that the US was at war.
“The president and his crew had better figure out a way to… tone down everything because we could be in the middle of a full-fledged war, and I don’t think that is something anybody wants,” he said.
The Pentagon said Friday it is awarding a $10 billion cloud computing contract to Microsoft, following a highly scrutinized bidding process which Amazon had been favored to win.
The 10-year contract for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program, better known as JEDI, ultimately will see all military branches sharing information in a system boosted by artificial intelligence.
“The National Defense Strategy dictates that we must improve the speed and effectiveness with which we develop and deploy modernized technical capabilities to our women and men in uniform,” Defense Department Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy said in a release.
“This award is an important step in execution of the Digital Modernization Strategy.”
Amazon was considered the lead contender to provide technology for JEDI, with its Amazon Web Services dominating the cloud computing arena and the company already providing classified servers for other government outfits including the CIA.
But the Pentagon earlier this year delayed awarding the hefty contract, saying the process would be reviewed by newly appointed Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
Esper was selected by US President Donald Trump, who has lashed out at Amazon and company founder Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post.
In July, Trump said he had heard “complaining from different companies like Microsoft and Oracle and IBM” over the JEDI bidding process.
“We’re going to take a look at it. We’ll take a very strong look at it,” he said, raising concerns among observers that the process would be improperly influenced.
Amazon said late Friday it was “surprised about this conclusion.”
“AWS is the clear leader in cloud computing, and a detailed assessment purely on the comparative offerings clearly lead to a different conclusion,” the company said in a statement.
Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment from AFP.
The contract has caused controversy over whether internet giants who say they want to make the world better should be involved in the defense industry.
JEDI critics have likened it to the nefarious “Skynet” computing overlord in “Terminator” films.
Microsoft was Amazon’s only rival in the final bidding for the winner-take-all contract, despite employees urging it to drop out.
“Many Microsoft employees don’t believe that what we build should be used for waging war,” company staffers wrote in an anonymous op-ed posted a year ago on Medium, which said it had verified the authenticity of the piece.
“The contract is massive in scope and shrouded in secrecy, which makes it nearly impossible to know what we as workers would be building.”
Microsoft has defended its interest in military contracts, saying at one point, “All of us who live in this country depend on its strong defense.”
Amazon chief Bezos had also defended the company’s bid, saying it was important to support US defense efforts, even if it is unpopular.
Wedbush analyst Dan Ives expected Amazon, and perhaps others, to challenge the Pentagon contract decision in court but still saw it giving a major lift to Microsoft’s cloud business in a market where $1 trillion is expected to be spent in the coming decade.
“This is a game changer deal for Microsoft to win as this will have a ripple effect for the company’s cloud business for years to come,” he said.
“While the current political landscape further complicated this high stakes bake-off with JEDI, both Microsoft and Amazon among others will have much to gain over the coming years in these cloud sweepstakes.”
Microsoft this week reported that quarterly profits rose 21 percent on the back of its thriving cloud computing business which has become a core focus for the US technology giant.
The tactic is a major switch from the way the Redmond-based company built its empire selling packaged software to computer users.
Amazon, one of the world’s most valuable companies, has expanded from its origins in e-commerce to cloud services, streaming media, artificial intelligence and other ventures.
Amazon Web Services accounted for nearly $9 billion in revenue in the recently-ended quarter, with growth in the cloud computing unit up 35 percent from a year ago.
The United States is pressing ahead with its withdrawal from northeast Syria and no ground forces will enforce the safe zone called for in the ceasefire agreement reached with Turkey, the Pentagon said Friday.
US forces will remain in contact with Turkey and Syrian Kurdish fighters that were allies of the US in the fight against the Islamic State group, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.
However, US forces will carry out aerial reconnaissance of the safe zone that is supposed to be set up between the Kurds and Turkey, a senior Pentagon official said.
The purpose of this will be to watch over prisons holding Islamic State fighters.
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has confirmed the death of Hamza Bin Laden, the son and designated heir of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden.
“That’s my understanding,” Esper said in an interview late Wednesday with Fox News when asked if Hamza bin Laden was dead.
“I don’t have the details on that. And if I did I’m not sure how much I could share with you,” he added.
US media reported at the beginning of August that bin Laden was killed during the last two years in an operation that involved the United States, citing US intelligence officials.
But President Donald Trump and other senior officials have refused to confirm or deny it publicly.
“I don’t want to comment on it,” Trump told reporters when asked.
The 15th of Osama bin Laden’s 20 children and a son of his third wife, Hamza, thought to be about 30 years old, was “emerging as a leader in the Al-Qaeda franchise,” the State Department said in announcing the reward.
Sometimes dubbed the “crown prince of jihad,” he had put out audio and video messages calling for attacks on the United States and other countries, especially to avenge his father’s killing by US forces in Pakistan in May 2011, the department said.
That work made him important in attracting a new generation of followers to the extremist group which carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US which left nearly 3,000 dead.
His father’s death in 2011 and the rise of the more virulent Islamic State group saw Al-Qaeda lose currency with younger jihadists, but the group appears to have been plotting a stealthy comeback under leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The Pentagon is expected to deploy “several hundred” troops to the US-Mexico border, a US official told AFP on Thursday, after President Donald Trump said the military would be used to tackle a “national emergency” on the border.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the troops would be used mainly to provide logistical support including tents, vehicles, and equipment.
Trump earlier on Thursday tweeted that “Democrat inspired” laws make it difficult to stop people at the border.
“I am bringing out the military for this National Emergency. They will be stopped!” he said.
About 2,100 National Guardsmen are already deployed to the border, following a Trump order in April.
Those troops are mainly serving in a support role to help free up border patrol officers.
CNN first reported the development, saying Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was expected to send 800 or more troops.
It was not immediately clear if the new deployment would be comprised of active-duty troops or additional Guardsmen.
The move comes as thousands of Central American migrants are crossing Mexico toward the United States in a caravan, drawing near-daily criticism from Trump.
Early Thursday, they set off from the town of Mapastepec in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, moving on to the next step in their long march north.
They were headed to the town of Pijijiapan, some on trucks but most making the seven-hour trek on foot. Four days after crossing into Mexico, the caravan is still more than 3,000 kilometers (1,860 miles) from the US border.
“It’s hard, and we know this country is dangerous too, but back in Honduras it’s even more dangerous, they kill for nothing,” said Josena Anibal Mejia, 27, as he walked with his daughter.
The United Nations estimates that 7,000 people have joined the caravan since it set out from San Pedro Sula, Honduras October 13.
President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the Pentagon to create a new US “Space Force,” which would become the sixth branch of the American military but which requires Congressional approval to take effect.
“I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces,” Trump said.
“We are going to have the Air Force, and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal,” he added.
Details about the role and timing of any new space force were not immediately clear.
However, the creation of a new branch of the military cannot happen from one day to the next, as Congress would have to pass a law authorizing it first.
Trump has previously supported the idea of creating a sixth branch of the armed forces, adding to the US Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.
Debate over the issue has raged in Congress for years, with some supportive of the idea and others insisting space duties remain under the Air Force as they are now.
“When it comes to defending America it is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space,” Trump said at the start of the third meeting of the National Space Council, an advisory body led by Vice President Mike Pence.
Trump also signed a directive on space traffic management, aimed at boosting public-private monitoring of objects in orbit so as to avoid collisions and debris strikes.
A statement released by the White House said the move “seeks to reduce the growing threat of orbital debris to the common interest of all nations.”
Pentagon officials were surprised Tuesday after President Donald Trump vowed at his summit with the North’s leader Kim Jong Un to cancel “provocative” joint military drills with South Korea.
Following the unprecedented meeting in Singapore, Trump stunned observers when he said continuing the exercises routinely held between the US and South Korea would be “inappropriate” while Washington fleshes out a comprehensive deal with Pyongyang.
“We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see the future negotiation is not going along like it should,” Trump said.
“Plus, I think it’s very provocative,” he noted, adding that “at some point” he wanted to withdraw US troops from the South.
Hours after Trump’s declaration, the Pentagon on Tuesday afternoon insisted that US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had not been blindsided by Trump.
“He was not surprised, he was consulted,” Mattis’s spokeswoman Dana White told reporters.
“Conversations have been robust, there were no surprises.”
In a statement, White later said the Pentagon “welcomes the positive news coming out of the summit and fully supports the ongoing, diplomatically led efforts with” North Korea.
But US officials told AFP they were taken aback by the news, and Pentagon personnel spent the morning in meetings discussing what could amount to an epic shift in the US military’s posture in South Korea.
The drills, which date back decades, are an integral component of the Pentagon’s boast that its troops are always ready to “fight tonight” on the Korean peninsula.
The exercises allow US and South Korean forces to practice mobilizing soldiers in the event of conflict, and to run computer simulations to improve coordination between the two militaries.
US Forces Korea (USFK), which comprises about 28,500 troops permanently based in South Korea, received no fresh guidance on upcoming joint training exercises, including so-called Ulchi Freedom Guardian scheduled for later this year.
Colonel Rob Manning, another spokesman, said: “We are going to be aligned with the president,” while noting that the readiness of US forces would remain “paramount.”
Trump said he wanted to remove the US military presence from South Korea, though he provided no timeline.
“I want to bring our soldiers back home,” he said. “That’s not part of the equation right now. At some point, I hope it will be, but not right now.”
Mattis has repeatedly stressed that any reduction in troops would be a decision that only Washington and Seoul could address.
Only hours before the summit, Mattis told Pentagon reporters that, as far as he knew, the issue of US troops in South Korea would not be part of any discussion in Singapore.
Stephen Pomper, US program director at the Crisis Group, said Trump had sown confusion by announcing the end of drills without first checking with the South Koreans.
“Creating friction with a key ally with an issue like that may have been a mistake, frankly,” he told AFP.
And what “exactly was the president committing to?” he added. “Was he committing to end all military exercises or was he committing to end just the most provocative ones?”
Exercises with South Korea cover a range of eventualities, including drills with nuclear-capable bombers.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio said he was “uncomfortable” with the suspension of military drills, especially “if this becomes permanent in exchange for nothing.”
But Daniel Davis, a retired army lieutenant colonel and fellow at the Defense Priorities military think tank, said suspending the drills would have no short-term impact on US and South Korean military readiness.
“The US armed forces will in no way stop individual and collective training, the South Korean military will continue to train and prepare as they always have,” he told AFP, adding that institutional knowledge from years of drills would be retained.
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said it was “troubling” that Trump had agreed to suspend joint drills without making any reference to North Korea dialing back its conventional military threat.
“The Singapore summit statement is essentially aspirational: no definitions of denuclearization, no timelines, no details as to verification,” Haass said on Twitter.
“What is most troubling about all this is that the US gave up something tangible, namely, US-RoK military exercises, in exchange,” he added, using the abbreviation for South Korea’s official name.
Still, he credited the summit for starting a diplomatic process between North Korea and the United States.
The Pentagon denied reports Thursday that the US-led coalition had killed at least 12 pro-regime fighters in Syria.
“These reports are false, the coalition did not strike any Syrian army positions in eastern Syria,” Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Kone Faulkner said in a statement.
“The coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in designated parts of Iraq and Syria, and to set conditions for follow-on stability operations. This mission has not changed.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a broad network of sources across Syria, said the raid had hit army positions south of Albu Kamal, a town on Syria’s border with Iraq.
A military source quoted by state news agency SANA said that “some of our military positions between Albu Kamal and Hmeimeh were hit this morning in an aggression by American coalition warplanes.”
The Pentagon said Saturday that a joint US-British-French operation against Syria’s regime had “successfully hit every target,” countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted.
The three allies used ships, a submarine and warplanes to launch a barrage of 105 guided missiles towards three chemical weapons facilities in Syria, officials said, including a research centre on the outskirts of Damascus.
The strikes “will significantly impact the Syrian regime’s ability to develop, deploy and use chemical weapons in the future,” said Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, director of the US military’s Joint Staff, though he noted a “residual” element remained.
“I’m not going to say that they are going to be unable to continue to conduct a chemical attack in the future,” he said.
“I suspect, however, they’ll think long and hard about it based on the activities of last night.”
The missiles hit their targets within a minute or two of each other, McKenzie said, striking around 4:00 am Syrian time (0100 GMT).
The overnight operation was the culmination of a week of frenetic planning at the Pentagon, with officials weighing the risks of various targets as President Donald Trump sent out mixed messages on what he wanted to do.
“All the options looked at ways to balance minimizing collateral damage against maximum effect. These three targets seemed to hit the sweet spot and do that,” McKenzie said.
He said there were no known civilian casualties, but noted Syria had fired about 40 unguided surface-to-air missiles, most of which didn’t launch until after the allied strike was over. These missiles may have come down in populated areas, he said.
“When you shoot iron into the air without guidance, it’s going to come down somewhere,” McKenzie said.
The Russian military said that 103 cruise missiles were fired including Tomahawk missiles, but that Syrian air defense systems managed to intercept 71.
McKenzie countered that “the Syrian response was remarkably ineffective in all domains.”
According to US officials, the operation comprised three US destroyers, a French frigate and a US submarine. The vessels were located in the Red Sea, the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean.
The US Air Force fired air-launched cruise missiles from B-1 bombers, and French and British planes also shot cruise missiles toward the targets.
The operation was “precise, overwhelming and effective,” McKenzie said, adding it will set their chemical weapons program back “for years.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White reiterated that the United States is only in Syria to fight the Islamic State group and does not want to get drawn into Syria’s civil war.
“We do not seek conflict in Syria, but we cannot allow such grievous violations of international law,” she said, referring to the suspected chemical attack.
“We successfully hit every target,” she said.
“The strikes were justified, legitimate and proportionate.”
Two members of the US-led anti-jihadist coalition — an American and a Briton — were killed by an improvised explosive device in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, US and British officials said Friday.
Five other coalition service personnel were wounded, the Pentagon said.
The attack in Manbij happened late Thursday — the day US President Donald Trump said he would pull forces out of Syria “very soon.”
“Two coalition personnel were killed and five were wounded by an improvised explosive device in Syria” at around midnight (2100 GMT), the coalition said in a statement which gave no further details about the victims.
A Pentagon official, speaking later on condition of anonymity, identified one of them as being American.
Britain’s defence ministry confirmed the second fatality came from within its ranks.
“The individual was embedded with US forces on a counter-Daesh operation when the incident occurred,” the ministry said, using an Arabic acronym to refer to the Islamic State (IS) group.
Since 2014, the coalition has provided weapons, training and other support to forces fighting IS jihadists in Syria and Iraq.
This latest incident brings the number of US personnel killed in action during the operation to 14.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
The US-led coalition said it was withholding details on the circumstances of the attack pending further investigation.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said the attack hit a convoy in the heart of Manbij, also wounding four members of the local council.
Manbij used to be a hub for the jihadists when their self-styled “caliphate” was at its peak. It was retaken by Kurdish-led forces backed by the coalition.
More than 2,000 US personnel
Located between the northern city of Aleppo and the western bank of the Euphrates, less than 30 kilometres (18 miles) south of the Turkish border, Manbij lies where several international influence zones meet and risks becoming a new flashpoint.
“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,” Trump told industrial workers in Ohio on Thursday.
The United States has more than 2,000 military personnel in eastern Syria, working with local militia groups to defeat IS while trying to keep out of Syria’s broader civil war.
Trump’s eagerness to quit the conflict contrasts with a new US Syria strategy announced in January by then secretary of state Rex Tillerson — who has since been sacked.
Also on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron met a delegation from the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and Kurdish official Asya Abdullah said afterwards that France was planning to send “new French troops to Manbij.”
The presidency did not explicitly deny the reinforcements, but stressed it was not planning any military operation in Syria outside the US-led coalition.
Turkey and its Syrian proxies launched a major offensive against the SDF in northern Syria in January that has already resulted in the capture of the Kurdish-majority region of Afrin.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to expand the operation to other areas where Kurdish forces are present, including the city of Manbij.