WASHINGTON (Dispatches) -- Donald Trump’s White House asked the Pentagon to play down and delay reports of brain injuries suffered by U.S. troops from an Iranian missile attack in Iraq last year, according to a former defense spokeswoman.
Alyssa Farah said she fended off the pressure from the White House, which came after Trump had first claimed there had been no casualties and then dismissed the injuries as “headaches” and “not very serious”.
More than 110 U.S. troops were ultimately diagnosed as having suffered traumatic brain injuries in the missile attack on two bases in Iraq housing U.S troops on January 8, 2020, launched by Tehran in retaliation for the assassination of legendary anti-terror commander General Qassem Soleimani five days earlier.
Roughly 80% of the American casualties from the missile attack were able to return to duty within days, but dozens had to be evacuated to Germany and then the U.S. for treatment.
Farah described the attack as the “heaviest several hours of my life” in an interview with a new podcast, One Decision, hosted by former CNN journalist Michelle Kosinski and the former head of Britain’s MI6 intelligence agency, Sir Richard Dearlove.
Farah, who went on to work in the White House, said that when Trump claimed there had been no casualties in the wake of the attack it was “true at the time that we gave those facts to the president”.
But she added: “I think where things got shaky was there was an effort from the White House to want to say, this was not successful – the Iranians were not successful in harming our targets in response. And I think that went too far.
“And I think that it ended up glossing over what ended up being very significant injuries on U.S. troops after the fact,” Farah told the podcast, aired on Thursday.
She said it was Pentagon policy to release the facts as they arrived and were verified, and as a result the total reported number of casualties climbed throughout January 2020, irritating the White House.
“We did get pushback from the White House of, ‘Can you guys report this differently? Can it be every 10 days or two weeks, or we do a wrap-up after the fact?’” Farah said. “The White House would prefer if we did not give regular updates on it. It was this drip, drip of quote unquote bad news.”
The assassination of Gen. Soleimani, as his car was leaving Baghdad airport on his arrival in Iraq on January 3, 2020, was a criminal act. The UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings at the time, Agnes Callamard, deemed it an “unlawful killing”.
After Gen. Soleimani was martyred the then U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, claimed there was evidence he was planning an “imminent” attack against U.S. embassies and bases, and Trump said later there was a plot “to blow up our embassy”. But members of Congress said there was no such claim in their intelligence briefing on the drone strike. Pompeo later said the strike was aimed at “deterrence”.
“I believe that it was in violation of international law because we were not at war with Iran,” said Gary Solis, a retired marine, former adjunct professor at West Point military academy, and author of 2006 book the Law of Armed Conflict. “Not only were we not at war with Iran, but where we killed him was in a state with which we are not at war. So what authority did we have to kill him?”