On Monday, the U.S. Central Command released newly unclassified footage of Iranian missiles raining down on U.S. forces last year in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
The video, taken from drone overhead, shows the different positions of U.S. forces and aircraft on Jan. 8, 2020 at the moment 11 ballistic missiles began striking the American targets at the joint U.S.-Iraqi Al Asad Airbase in western Iraq where 2,000 U.S. troops were based.
The first strikes destroyed six air maintenance facility structures, according to the video. The second strike location destroyed more air maintenance facilities, in addition to personnel offices and living areas. More air maintenance facilities and personnel areas were destroyed at other locations.
The video was released one day after appearing on a 60 Minutes special, which included interviews with troops on the ground during the attack – and videos taken from troops themselves during the attack.
One of the troops, Army Maj. Alan Johnson said he took cover in bunkers capable of protecting troops from warheads weighing 60 pounds – not the 1,000-pound warheads carried by the Iranian missiles.
“Words can’t even describe the amount of energy that is released by these, these missiles,” Johnson told 60 Minutes. “Knocked the wind out of me followed by the most putrid tasting ammonia tasting dust that swept through the bunker coated your teeth.”
Johnson was so certain of his death, he recorded a farewell message to his son.
“The fire was just rolling over the bunkers, you know, like 70 feet in the air,” Johnson recounted, adding he thought “we’re going to burn to death.”
More than 100 U.S. troops were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries after the attack, and 29 troops, including Johnson, were awarded Purple Hearts. Johnson said he still suffers headaches, ringing of the ears, and PTSD.
Air Force Lt. Col. Staci Coleman was one of the personnel involved in evacuating 50 aircraft and 1,000 troops from the base. She didn’t think the troops left behind would survive the attacks.
Army Lt. Col. Tim Garland said some troops stayed behind because they couldn’t bear to “be that guy that was going to relative safety” when their fellow troops were in harm’s way.
Marine General Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, monitored the attack from Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla.
“Things are happening that could take us to war if we don’t make the correct move here,” he told 60 Minutes of the attack.
McKenzie was also the one to give the kill order against Soleimani a week earlier, telling the U.S. drone commander, “take your shot when you got it.”
“I never take killing anyone as, as an easy decision, but I think the risk of not acting in this case outweighed the risks of acting, so, yes, I was good with the decision,” McKenzie said. “The blood of many Americans is on the hands of Quasem Soleimani. He was as close to an indispensable man as you could find inside Iran. Where he went violence and death followed.”
McKenzie said he knew Iran would retaliate, and the first sign came when Iran “began to move their ballistic missiles.”