Civilian Contractor Dies of Heart Attack After Rocket Attack on Iraq Base

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A U.S. Military Working Dog soldier performs inspection at Al Asad Air Base.
A U.S. Military Working Dog soldier and Polish engineer soldiers from Task Force Minecraft assist a Base Operating Support Integrator engineer Soldier with base perimeter inspections at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Jan. 27, 2021. (U.S. Army National Guard/Staff Sgt. Armando Vasquez)

A civilian U.S. contractor died of a heart attack he suffered during a rocket attack at Iraq's Al Asad Air Base early Wednesday morning.

No U.S. service members were injured during the barrage of roughly 10 rockets fired at the base in western Iraq, the Pentagon said Wednesday. But the contractor had a heart attack while sheltering in place and died shortly afterward.

"Our thoughts and prayers, our deepest condolences, go to his family and loved ones," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a briefing with reporters Wednesday.

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The attackers were east of the base when they fired the rockets, likely from multiple locations, he said.

Kirby said the military cannot yet say who is believed to be responsible for the attack, and it does not yet know how much damage the base sustained.

Iraqi security forces quickly responded and are now investigating the attack, he added. The U.S. military is ready to assist with the investigation, he said, but the Iraqis have not yet asked for help.

The base's counter rocket, artillery, mortar, or C-RAM, missile defense systems engaged to defend the base. But it is unclear how many, if any, rockets the C-RAM shot down before others struck the base.

The attack came less than a week after U.S. F-15E Strike Eagles struck a facility at Abu Kamal, Syria, on the eastern border with Iraq, that the military said was used by Iranian-backed militias including Kaiti'b Hezbollah and Kaiti'b Sayyid al-Shuhada to cross the border. The U.S. bombed that facility after a series of similar rocket attacks on the American embassy in Baghdad and Irbil in northern Iraq.

After that Feb. 25 airstrike, Kirby told reporters that the strikes were intended to damage the militia groups and their ability to conduct future attacks, as well as to send a signal about the U.S.' willingness to act to protect its people and security interests.

But on Wednesday, Kirby acknowledged that the morning's attack was worrisome.

"Certainly, this is a troubling development, and not what anybody wanted to see, no question about it," he said. "I said back then [after the airstrike], that we hope it will have a deterrent effect. We still do. Nobody wants to see this escalate into ... a tit for tat. That's not in our interest. It's not in the Iraqi people's interest."

Kirby would not comment on whether the U.S. will respond to the latest attack, but said if a response is necessary, "we'll do that ... in a manner, a time, and a place of our choosing."

"If a response is warranted, I think we have shown clearly that we won't shy away from that," he said. "But we're just not there yet."

Kirby declined to get into further details about the attack, but noted that similar rocket attacks in the past have been launched by Shia-backed militias.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

Related: Al Asad Missile Attack Nearly Killed 150 US Troops, Destroyed 30 Aircraft: Report

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