The United States will send nearly 3,000 more troops to the Mideast after the killing of Iran’s highest-ranking general in an airstrike ordered by President Donald Trump, defense officials said Friday.
Meanwhile, The Associated Press and other media were reporting Friday evening that another airstrike — almost exactly 24 hours after the one that targeted Gen. Qassem Soleimani — killed five members of an Iran-backed militia north of Baghdad.
An Iraqi security official reported the attack to AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. The Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces confirmed the strike, saying it hit one of its medical convoys near the stadium in Taji, north of Baghdad. The group said none of its top leaders were killed, the AP reported.
The Associated Press report indicated the latest incident was not an American military attack, according to an unnamed U.S. official.
Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will serve as reinforcements in the region, the officials said on condition of anonymity.
About 700 soldiers from the same unit deployed to Kuwait earlier this week when the U.S. Embassy came under attack in Baghdad.
Tensions in the region are running high in the wake of Thursday’s targeted killing of Soleimani, Tehran’s top general and the architect of its interventions across the Middle East.
Iran has vowed “harsh retaliation” for the U.S. airstrike, which was ordered by Trump and carried out near Baghdad International Airport.
Soleimani was the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force and a senior commander, according to a statement from the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who confirmed U.S. involvement several hours after the attack.
The boost in the number of troops is a sign of the U.S. being concerned that the assassination would spark reprisals by the Iranian government throughout the region.
The United States urged its U.S. citizens to leave Iraq “immediately.” The State Department said the embassy in Baghdad, which was attacked by Iran-backed militiamen and other protesters earlier this week, is closed and all consular services have been suspended.
About 5,200 American troops are based in Iraq, where they mainly train Iraqi forces and help to combat Islamic State militants.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that a “harsh retaliation is waiting” for the U.S. after the airstrike, calling Soleimani the “international face of resistance.” Khamenei declared three days of public mourning for the general’s death and appointed Maj. Gen. Esmail Ghaani, Soleimani’s deputy, to replace him as head of the elite Quds force.
An unconfirmed number of others were killed when four missiles struck at the airport in Iraq’s capital Thursday, according to multiple news reports and airport security officials.
“General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,” a statement from the Pentagon said.
Officials said the strike also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhadis, a high-level militia leader in the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces, according to reports.
Reports say the casualties may also have included 12 Iraqi soldiers.
The PMF militia blamed the United States in the immediate aftermath of the strike.
After the attack, Iran summoned the Swiss charges d’affaires, who represents U.S. interests in Tehran, to protest the killing. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the strike “an act of state terrorism and violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.”
Oil prices surged on news of the attack, and markets were mixed.
U.S. Sen. David Perdue of Georgia tweeted his support for the president’s actions:
The Washington Post was the first to report late Thursday that the airstrikes were launched at Trump’s direction.
Earlier reports from Reuters and Al Jazeera News said four missiles struck at or near a facility that housed American and Iraqi counter-terrorism forces, according to Iraqi security forces.
Loud explosions were reported.
A military runway and an airport service road were hit, reports said.
At least one rocket landed near an air cargo hall at the airport, where two SUVs were reportedly hit. Reports said Soleimani was in one of the vehicles in the convoy that was hit as it was leaving the airport.
The civilian area of the airport was reportedly unharmed.
Reports said American Apache helicopters immediately took flight from the airport to patrol the skies.
Sirens were blaring in the area, according to witnesses, and early video from the scene showed several civilian vehicles on fire.
The attack came two days after the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad came under attack by Iran-backed militia fighters, who have since retreated.
Tensions in the Mideast region between the United States and Iran have been escalating for months.
In December, a rocket attack at the airport wounded six Iraqi security forces members, marking the 10th attack against U.S. installations or interests in the region in recent weeks.
The attacks have been blamed on Iran-backed militias who appear now to be using more lethal and longer-range rockets.
The U.S. blamed a Dec. 3 attack on the Iran-backed Shia militia group known as Kataib Hezb’Allah.
— Information from The Associated Press was used to supplement this report. This is a developing story. Please return to AJC.com for updates.
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