On January 9, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) conducted missile strikes on the US-operated Ayn al-Assad airbase and the US military HQ in Erbil city in Iraq.
Depending on sources the IRGC launched from 10 to 22 missiles:
- According to the IRGC, over 10 missiles were launched and all of them hit the assigned targets. Iranian state television claimed that at least 80 “American terrorists” were killed in Iranian strikes. This number of casualties has not confirmed by any evidience;
- The Iraqi military said that 22 missiles were launched. 17 of them hit the Ain al-Asad air base, including 2 missiles that did not explode, and 5 missiles hit the US facility in the city of Erbil. Iraq denied any casualties among its forces;
- The US military said that 10 missiles hit the Ayn al-Assad airbase, a misile struck the US facility in Erbil and 4 missiles failed. The Pentagon, and later US President Donald Trump, denied any casualties among US or Iraqi personnel.
The available infomration indicates that there really were no casualties among US and Iraqi personnel, while the Iranian missiles successfully struck their targets. The advanced warning of the Iraqi side (that intentionally or unintentionally informed the US) by Iran is among the main reasons of this result. Therefore, the Iranian strike was not intended to lead to casualties among US or Iraqi personnel deployed at these bases. The pattern of damage caused to the Ayn al-Assad airbase also allows to suggest the missile warheads’ payload was much smaller than it could be. In this case, the strike was first of all a strong military (!) message to the US military and political leadership.
Iran’s semi-official Tashim news agency citing own sources said the IRGC employed Qiam (the range – 800km) and Fateh-313 (the range – 500 km) short-range ballistic missiles. However, photos and videos appearing oline demonstrate a bit different picture. According to them, that the IRGC in fact employed Qiam and Zolfaghar (the range – up to 800km) missiles.
Open data suggests that the missile launches were made from Iran’s Kirmasan province. One of the largest Iranian missile bases is located near Kirmasan city.
Photos show the remnants of Qiam missiles. They do not explode because the Qiam warhead separates from the airframe before atmospheric re-entry:
Photos of Zulfaghar missile launches during the January 8 strike:
The Zolfaghar short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) is a variant of the Fateh-110 SRBM family. It was developed as a part of the campaign to improve the range and accuracy of the existing missiles. The Zolfaghar reportedly has a range of 800km. Iranian media reports claim that the Zolfaghar’s accuracy is within 10 meters.
While the Iranian strike apparently caused no casualties, the IRGC publicly demonstrated that they can peneterate US air defense using its domestic-produced ballistic missiles and electronic warfare systems (mostly Russian).
Satellite images and visual evidence from the ground demonstrate that the strike was preceise and caused a visible impact to the Ayn al-Assad airbase. The close grouping of destroyed targets serves as a visual demonstration of the accuracy of the Iranian missiles.
Main locations of the strike:
The satellite images and the recently appeared video allow to suggest that aircraft tent shelters most likely were the main targets of the strike. So far, the appeared evidence does not allow to see any large missile craters. This contributes to the version that missile warheads’ payload was smaller than it could be.
The January 8 nation adress by President Donald Trump confirms that the US received and understood the message: Iran is capable of striking any US military facility anywhere around the Middle East and this strike will be effective. Therefore, the Trump administration did not risk with a new war, declared the Iranian missile strike on its military bases a ‘success’ and limited the response to new sanctions and loud rhetoric about Iran-backed ‘terrorism’.
The question is how the US will react to a further pressure from local forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. The US assassination of Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani, the Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the second-in-command of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units, and other prominent Iraqi and Iranian officers led to a very negative reaction from the local population in Iraq. This negative already led to several rocket strikes on the area of the US Embassy in Baghdad. The most recent of these strikes followed Trump’s ‘peaceful’ nation adress on the situation with Iran.