The attack occurred early Wednesday morning at Al-Asad Airbase

By Rachel DeSantis
March 03, 2021 11:16 AM
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Ain al-Asad military airbase
Al Asad Air Base
| Credit: AYMAN HENNA/AFP via Getty

A U.S. civilian contractor died of a medical episode early Wednesday while sheltering after 10 rockets were fired at a military base in Iraq hosting thousands of U.S. troops, U.S. officials said.

Col. Wayne Marotto, the military spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, wrote on Twitter that initial reports indicated 10 indirect fire rockets "targeted" the Al-Asad Airbase around 7:20 a.m. local time. Iraqi Security Forces are investigating.

No U.S. service members were injured in the attack, but a U.S. civilian contractor died amid the chaos, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said in a statement.

"A U.S. civilian contractor suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering and sadly passed away shortly after," Kirby said. "We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the individual who died."

"We cannot attribute responsibility at this time, and we do not have a complete picture of the extent of the damage. We stand by as needed to assist our Iraqi partners as they investigate," he added.

The attack comes just days before Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the country, and days after a U.S. airstrike in Syria killed one fighter and wounded two in an Iranian-backed militia, the Pentagon said, per NBC News.

The attack was the first known military action under President Joe Biden, and one of the two militia groups affected defended its retaliation against such "barbaric aggression," CNN reported.

"[It] indicates without any doubt that the aggressive American policies towards our peoples do not change by changing their administration as the deceived hope, and that its ugly face cannot be hidden by the change of masks," the group reportedly said in a statement. "We affirm the legitimate right of our Iraqi people to respond to this cowardly criminal operation, in revenge for our martyrs."

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Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters one day before the Al-Asad attack that he hoped the Syria strikes would "deter future attacks" by militia groups, CNN reported.

Al-Asad hosts about 2,000 U.S. troops, according to CBS News, and was previously the site of an Iranian missile attack in January 2020. That attack was retaliation for a U.S. airstrike at Baghdad International Airport that killed prominent Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani, CNN reported.

Denmark also has troops at the base, and Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod condemned the "despicable" attacks as "completely unacceptable" on Twitter.

"@coalition forces are working for stabilization & security on Iraq govt. invitation Denmark remains committed, will coordinate closely with our partners and allies," he wrote.