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Trump: ‘I won’t be changing my mind,’ on US troops with TBIs from Iran missile attack after saying ‘not serious’

President Donald J. Trump addresses his remarks at the Nation’s Mayors on Transforming America’s Communities meeting Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, in the East Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)
February 12, 2020

On Monday, President Donald Trump stood by his initial assessment of U.S. troops’ injuries after Iran’s missile strikes in Iraq last month.

Trump initially reported no injuries from Iran’s Jan. 8 missile attack, though reports of troops who suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the attacks began to emerge. Trump initially downplayed the severity of those injuries as “not serious,” and in a Fox News interview this week, he appeared to stand by that assessment.

Fox Business host Trish Regan raised claims Trump lied about the U.S. casualties suffered during Iran’s missile attack.

Trump said he monitored the missile attack and saw that nobody was hit by the missiles. Trump suggested he reported the information accurately as it was available at the time. He also said the lack of apparent injuries informed his decision not to carry out retaliatory strikes against Iran.

“When [military officials] came in and told me that nobody was killed, I was impressed by that and I stopped something that would have been very devastating for [Iran],” Trump said.

The Pentagon later said symptoms of TBI began to emerge among troops in the days after the attack. Initially, around 11 U.S. personnel were identified as having TBI, but the number of troops with injuries has grown over the course of several weeks and had risen above 100 cases.

“And then a couple of weeks later I started hearing about people having to do with trauma, head trauma,” Trump said.

In comments to reporters during a January meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump confirmed he was aware of the troops diagnosed with TBI, but described the injuries as “not serious.”

Trump’s response sparked controversy and prompted one veteran group, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to call on the president to apologize for his comments.

As he discussed the TBI cases with Regan, Trump said, “That exists. But it’s, you know, I viewed it a little bit differently than most, and I won’t be changing my mind on that.”

Trump’s latest assessment of the injuries may do little to ease the controversy surrounding the issue.

In a Jan. 30 Pentagon press conference, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, “I’ve had the chance to speak with the president.  He is very concerned about the health and welfare of all of our service members, particularly those who were involved in the operations in Iraq, and he understands the nature of these injuries.”

In that same January press conference, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley appeared to clarify Trump’s “not serious” comments, as the possible result of a confusion about how the Pentagon classifies injuries. According to Milley, the Pentagon classifies injuries in three categories: Very Serious Injured (VSI), Serious Injured (SI) and Not Serious Injured (NSI).

“In this case, the reporting to date indicates mild TBI, which would be in the category of not serious injured.  That doesn’t mean they’re not injured,” Milley said.  “. . . But in the categories that we categorize wounded in action, these individuals are in the NSI category at this time. That’s not to minimize or dismiss or anything, that’s just to say that that’s how we categorize casualties.”

Pentagon press statements have indicated as many as 200 U.S. personnel could see TBI symptoms as a result of their proximity to the missile blasts.

Many of the troops who had been diagnosed with TBI had already reported back to duty in Iraq.