THE PENTAGON — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is disputing speculation that the Iranians tried to avoid killing any U.S. troops during their recent missile attacks on two bases in Iraq.
No U.S. troops were harmed by the missile attacks on Al-Asad Airbase or Irbil, prompting some U.S. and European government officials to tell Reuters they believed the Iranians purposely avoided hitting barracks and other buildings that house American service members.
But Army Gen. Mark Milley said on Wednesday that in his "own personal assessment" was that Iran intended to kill U.S. troops.
Of the 16 short-range Iranian ballistic missiles fired, 11 struck Al-Assad, Milley told reporters at the Pentagon.
"The points of impact were close enough to personnel and equipment and so on and so forth, I believe based on what I saw and what I knew that they were attempting to cause structural damage; destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft; and to kill personnel," Milley said.
It is not possible to determine if the one missile that struck Irbil was meant to cause American casualties because "it's only one round; it's not enough data to know for certain," Milley said.
He quickly added that professional intelligence analysts will look at the data to come up with their own assessment about whether the Iranians wanted to kill U.S. troops.
"Intent has to do with reading someone's mind: What they wanted to do," Mlley said. "All I can tell you is that, factually, they landed at certain points in a populated camp and they did certain amounts of damage and there were no casualties. Why there were no casualties, from my estimation, from what I know now; I think it has to do more with the defensive techniques that our forces uses as opposed to intent."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper also tried to knock down claims that the Iraqi government had warned the U.S. military about the attacks ahead of time and that is one reason why no American troops were killed.
In fact, the U.S. military tried to give the Iraqis a heads up about the attack, not the other way around, Esper claimed.
"We had a heads up in the sense that our warning systems and all those things were activated and watching and were able to give us sufficient warning," Esper told reporters.
The U.S. military's early warning system helped to ensure that no U.S. troops were killed by the Iranian missile attacks, Milley said.
When asked if U.S. troops might have been killed by the Iranian missiles without the heads up from the early warning system, Milley replied: "I think that's a reasonable conclusion, sure."