This is breaking news, so it may not be answerable right away but probably will be in a reasonably short term...

Iran has launched (from its own territory) ballistic missile strikes against US bases in Iraq.

Two Iraqi bases housing US and coalition troops were targeted - one at Al Asad and one in Irbil at about 2:00am local time (10.30pm GMT), just hours after the burial of Soleimani. [...]

This is the most direct assault by Iran on the US since the seizing of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards said the attack was in retaliation for the death of Soleimani on Friday - killed in a missile strike outside Baghdad airport on the orders of President Trump.

Given that the US has substantial anti-ballistic missile capabilities, have these been used to counter the strike and have they been effective in doing so?

CNN now reports that there were no casualties in these Iranian attacks.

A Dubai-based western private security source with staff at the al-Asad and Erbil military bases told CNN there were “no casualties” in Wednesday's Iranian missile attack.

“To be honest, rocket attacks are nothing new to us. It is business as usual,” the source told CNN.

It's also possible (as noted in a comment below) that no anti-ballistic defenses existed at these bases, which is why they may have been targeted in this manner. But from the CNN source, it seems there might have been other procedures in place to minimize casualties in case of such an attack. (I guess the US could at least detect the launches and send personnel to bunkers, if they don't live/sleep there permanently.) Although these procedures might not be disclosed, it would be interesting to know, to the extent that is possible with public information, why there were no casualties. (Scud type missiles not being particularly accurate, etc.)

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    Maybe USA dont want to counter the missile strike :) Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 8:52
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    I can't find any source that says Al Asad is defended by Patriot or any other kind of ABM system, as opposed to a CIWS. Not sure if that's an answer ("no, those capabilities are not deployed there") or if the premise of the question needs changing.
    – Dan Scally
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 9:15
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    @DanScally: It is an answer. It also means that Iran probably selected those targets because they lacked ABM. Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 10:07
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    these would not be ballistic missiles, in the sense generally understood when referring to ICBMs and the like. there a number of tactical antimissile systems around that could have defended these bases, but they are in a different class than say the ones meant to intercept a NK launch. Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 15:30
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    Is this question about politics? It's more about military strategy or maybe investigative journalism, but otherwise offtopic here I would say. Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 22:45

2 Answers 2


It doesn’t seem so. Citing an unnamed US official, the LA Times reports that no attempt was made to intercept the missiles and those that did not fail during flight did hit the base. The lack of casualties was due to early warning radar which allowed base personnel to take cover:

Iran launched 15 missiles, of which 11 hit their targets and four failed in flight, according to a U.S. defense official, who said there were no reports of U.S. casualties in the attack.

Ten of the missiles hit the sprawling Asad Air Base in Iraq’s western Anbar province. U.S. radar was able to track the missiles in flight and, as a result, personnel at the base were able to take cover. The U.S. made no effort to intercept the missiles, the official said.

One missile hit the Combined Joint Operations Center in Irbil, where the U.S. trains Iraqi Kurdish fighters and also runs a large air operations control center covering northern Iraq and parts of Syria.

Iran launched 15 missiles. 11 hit targets, according to a U.S. defense official - LA Times

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    Another explanation for the lack of casualties has been floated: Iran intentionally aiming for near misses, and notifying Iraq immediately beforehand (who most likely passed the message on to the US, even though this article doesn't explicitly say so): cnn.com/2020/01/08/politics/…
    – llama
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 21:33
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    @llama, that might be possible for the attack on Asad airbase, which reportedly used Fateh-110 missiles with three-meter accuracy, but the attack on Irbil was reported to have used the Qiam 1 missile, which has a 50% chance of missing the target by more than 500 meters.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 22:11
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    @Fizz true, but I think "we're going to launch missiles at American bases within [short timeframe]" would probably be promptly relayed as a message for all American personnel to drop what they're doing and get to cover until there's an all-clear issued. It has the slight advantage of annoying everyone by wasting their time, while still giving almost as much casualty reduction potential as a specific message would.
    – llama
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 23:01
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    There have been comments (on CNN I think) that Iran specifically tried to avoid human casualties. Apparently they wanted to show force by retaliating but didn't want to go so far as causing massive escalation on US side.
    – DJ van Wyk
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 12:34
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    Likely they want to avoid casualities but look strong to their own pop, claim the attack as theirs, then do the real damage with cyber attack or something similar to what happened to the saudi oil refinery, which they then can deny.
    – Stian
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 14:35

There were none located in those places.

Those paragraphs from Foxnews explain: (emphasis mine)

U.S. defense officials told Fox News the U.S. military did not attempt to shoot down the ballistic missiles fired from Iran because there were no American military assets in place to intercept them. The Patriot and Avenger anti-missile defense systems are deployed to other locations in the Middle East, but not to the two Iraqi bases targeted by Iran. Officials say the American assets are in high demand and short supply around the world.

“For the past few years, our focus was defeating ISIS and keeping a light footprint in Iraq. We did not need air defense systems against ISIS,” one official said, explaining why there were no U.S. missile defense systems in place at the Iraqi bases.

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    Just to confirm new york times likewise states that this particular base did not have anti missle defenses as well: nytimes.com/2020/01/08/us/politics/trump-iran-suleimani.html
    – dsollen
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 17:19
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    Another way of interpreting that last paragraph is that they were prepared the way they needed to be to fight the enemy they knew they had (ISIS). They were not prepared for civilian leadership to suddenly make them a target of a state actor with state resources (like medium-range missiles).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 14:14
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    Iran may have issued a hint of an imminent missile strike on the two U.S bases just to avoid any deaths that may lead to a full blown war.
    – mykey
    Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 11:04

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