[Published here on January 14, 2020]
Ain al-Asad Air Base (Iraq) (AFP) – A timeline of last week’s Iranian missile attack against the Ain Al-Asad Air Base in Iraq, as seen through the eyes of some of the 1,500 US soldiers deployed there.
– Tuesday, January 7 –
9:00 pm: Ain al-Asad’s top brass briefs commanders that an attack on the base will take place that evening. Commanders start making plans to minimise casualties.
“The plan was everyone goes into their bunkers at 23:00,” said Chief Warrant Officer Mike Pridgeon. “I start kicking in doors and telling everyone to wear warm clothes because I don’t know how long we’ll be in here.”
10:00 pm: The Air Force has a different idea. “I got half my personnel in the air in aircraft. That was our quick thinking,” said Lt. Colonel Staci Coleman.
She said hundreds of airmen were flown to a different location and returned to the base about 20 hours later — long after the attack was over.
11:00 pm: Troops pile into bunkers and wait. “The bunkers were jam-packed. We’re smushed in there like sardines in a can,” US soldier Alex Bender told AFP.
– Wednesday January 8 –
1:35 am: “Is that… Is that a flare?”
While most soldiers piled into bunkers, some were positioned in guard towers to spot any potential ground attack accompanying the missiles.
They saw the first sparks in the sky and at first glance, thought they were flares.
1:42 am: A second missile volley strikes. “That one blasted me pretty hard” even in the bunker, said Pridgeon.
“I was concussed. Five or six missiles came in and you could just see the orange” streaks of flame in the sky and on the ground, through an reinforced observation window.
“We’d get three to four missiles within a minute and a half.”
2:06 am: A third volley hits. “It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever been through,” said US army soldier Eliot Toledo, from Florida, who was stationed at a guard post.
Around 4:00 am: After a long lull, troops are allowed to leave their bunkers and carry out an initial damage assessment. One strike had pulverised living quarters and set them on fire. A row of craters dotted the airfield.
“Things were still smouldering,” Pridgeon said.
– Daylight and clean-up –
7:00 am: The sun rises and troops stationed around the perimeter relax. “I was so happy to see the sun come up,” said Toledo.
9:00 am: The army’s drone surveillance team can finally land the last of the drones that had been flying throughout the attack.
Around noon: Clean-up begins, as does analysis of the strike patterns and missiles to glean as much information as possible about Iran’s capabilities.
There are at least 14 impact locations as well as several duds, which are collected for examination.
“There are parts and fragments that are being put together and analysed now,” said Lt. General Tim Garland, who heads US-led coalition operations at the base.
“There are definitely things left over that are helping us see what this threat was.”