AC-130 Ghostrider Gunship Strikes Iranian-Backed Militia In Iraq

A U.S. Air Force AC-130J Ghostrider gunship struck a vehicle Tuesday near Baghdad involved in recent attacks on the Al-Asad airbase in Iraq, a U.S. official told The War Zone Tuesday. It was the first time the U.S. has struck a target in Iraq since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war Oct. 7.

At least one member of the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia was killed in the attack, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details. The official did not specify what role the vehicle or occupants had in the attacks on Al-Asad.

A U.S. military official told The War Zone that “at least one member of a hostile force belonging to an Iranian-backed militia” was killed when the U.S. responded to an attack on Al Asad today that injured several U.S. troops and caused minor damage to infrastructure.

It was the 65th such attack on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since Oct. 17, according to the Pentagon. It was also the third time, including Oct. 21 and Oct. 17, that U.S. troops have been injured by attacks on Al Asad, according to the Pentagon, which said the base has struck at least 15 times by drones and rockets since Oct. 17.

The U.S. military official, also speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reasons, could not immediately say how many troops were injured or offer details about what kind of injuries. That official would not say how the U.S. strike was carried out nor what role the vehicle or occupants played in the attack on Al Asad.

This marks the fourth known U.S. airstrike against Iranian-backed militias since Oct. 26 and the first in Iraq, as well as the first by a Ghostrider. The previous three attacksNov. 12, Nov. 8  and Oct. 26 – were carried out by Air Force fighters on targets in Syria.

Open source trackers began reporting seeing a Ghostrider flying patterns over west Baghdad last night. The fact that it was doing so with its transponder on was very peculiar.

The latest attack on Al Asad was claimed by a loose-knit group of those militias calling itself the Islamic Resistance. There were also three reported over the weekend, two in Syria and one in Iraq.

The group said one of the fighters associated with it, Fadil Al-Maksusi, was killed. He belonged to Kataib Hezbollah and was killed in the airstrike, Atlas News reported.

The Pentagon says the attacks on U.S. forces since Oct. 17 have been fairly evenly split, with 31 in Iraq and 34 in Syria. They have been carried out “by a mix of one-way attack drones and rockets,” a U.S. official said. “Most of these attacks were successfully disrupted by our military. Most failed to reach their targets, thanks to our robust defenses.”

Still, more than 60 troops have been injured in these attacks, including the ones in the most recent attack on Al Asad. Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Nov. 16. About 27 troops were evaluated for traumatic brain injury and 32 for non-serious injuries and all have returned to duty, she said.

In January 2020, Al Asad was struck by 11 Iranian Qiam-1 short-range ballistic missiles had hit Al Asad in response to an attack that killed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leader Qassam Soleimani.

As for the platform involved here, the AC-130J, it’s Air Force Special Operations Command’s flying arsenal ship equipped with 30mm Bushmaster chain gun, a 105mm Howitzer and a wide variety of air-to-ground guided weapons. Its sensor and communications suite, as well as its long loitering time and surgical air-to-ground arsenal, make it extremely capable when it comes to finding and attacking targets of opportunity in lower threat airspace, especially at night. You can read more about the latest AC-130J developments here and here.

This is a developing story. We will update it when there is more news to report about the attack.

Update: 2:29 PM EDT –

The strike by the AC-130J Ghostrider was the first attack on Iranian-backed militias that was not pre-planned, Singh told reporters Tuesday.

The aircraft was already in the air over Al-Asad at the time and was responding to an attack, she said. The three prior reported attacks were all planned in advance. Singh declined to say why the gunship was in the air, but that it had “eyes on” the militia attack as it unfolded.

In addition, she said this was the first attack on U.S. personnel since Oct. 17 by a close-range ballistic missile. She declined to specify what kind, but the official U.S. definition is a missile with a range of less than 300 km (about 186 miles). Singh also said that several militia members were killed in the strike, the first time the U.S. has confirmed casualties in its responses.

Singh also updated the total number of strikes against U.S. forces and the number of injuries that have resulted.

“U.S. forces have been attacked approximately 66 times since Oct. 17,” Singh said. “It’s 32 separate times in Iraq and 34 separate times in Syria. U.S. personnel have sustained approximately 62 injuries. But this does not include any injuries from last night’s attack, but they are still being evaluated.”

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