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In this Nov. 8, 2017, file photo, U.S. Marines are stationed in Ain Al Asad air base in Iraq. Image Credit: AP

A sprawling air base in western Iraq that hosted President Donald Trump during his first visit to a combat zone as commander in chief was one of two military installations where U.S. troops are stationed that came under ballistic missile attack by Iran early Wednesday.

Ain Al-Asad Air Base

Iraq airbase map
According to the Iraqi security official twitter account, Iraq was under attack by 22 missiles. Seventeen fell on Ain Al Assad airbase, including two that did not explode in Al Hitan area. Five other rockets fell in Arbil. Image Credit: Screengrab

Ain Al-Asad Air Base, along with an air base near Irbil in northern Iraq, were targeted in retaliation for a drone strike by the United States on Friday that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian commander who Trump had maintained was planning "a very big attack and a very bad attack for us."

US MQ-9 Reaper
A US airstrike killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, following US President Donald Trump’s orders.

The fusillade also came one day after Trump threatened to attack cultural sites in Iran in response to any reprisals for Soleimani's killing.

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US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump on a recent visit at Al Assad Air Base, Iraq. Image Credit: AP

Trump backed away from the threat earlier Tuesday after being told it would be illegal.

Here's what we know about the bases and the scale of the attack on Wednesday:

The Pentagon announced that more than a dozen ballistic missiles had been fired at the two bases but said it was still assessing the damage.

The editor-in-chief of Mashregh, the main news website for Iran's Revolutionary Guard, said more than 30 ballistic missiles had been fired at Ain al-Asad Air Base

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In this Nov. 8, 2017, file photo, U.S. Marines are stationed in Ain Al Asad air base in Iraq. Image Credit: AP

"The president has been briefed and is monitoring the situation closely and consulting with his national security team," the White House said in a statement.

Trump later wrote on Twitter that the assessment of casualties and damage was continuing, and that he would make a statement on Wednesday morning.

6,000 troops

As of December, there were about 6,000 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq, which is a fraction of the peak number of 150,000 military personnel who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom, which lasted from 2003 to 2011.

After Soleimani's death, the Iraqi parliament voted to expel U.S. troops from the country, which Trump then said would be met with sanctions.

Unexpected visits

During the past two years, both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence made unexpected visits to the base, which is in Anbar province and about 135 miles from the Syrian border.

At the time of his visit, which he left for on Christmas night in 2018, Trump characterized the journey as harrowing and under the cloak of darkness.

"I had concerns for the institution of the presidency because — not for myself, personally," he said at the time.

"I had concerns for the first lady, I will tell you. But if you would have seen what we had to go through, with the darkened plane, with all windows closed, with no lights on whatsoever, anywhere — pitch black. I've never seen it. I've been in many airplanes — all types and shapes and sizes. I've never seen anything like it."

In 2015, Iraqi security forces repelled an attack on the base by the Islamic State.


The remaining U.S. troops at the base are helping to train Iraqi security forces.

In October, Delta Force commandos stationed at the base started the operation in Syria that led to the death of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State. Eight US helicopters, primarily CH-47 Chinooks, took off from the base, flying low and fast to avoid detection during the mission.

The president, along with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Pence and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, watched video of the raid piped into the White House Situation Room from surveillance aircraft orbiting over the battlefield.

Pence visited the base in November.

Al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and three children, which Trump recounted with particularly brash language.

"He died like a dog," Trump said. "He died like a coward."