On the Receiving End

I am really on the fence about this one.

The US DoD has released video footage of the missile strike by Iran, on the US base. In case you don’t recall, the strike was declared to be retaliation for the US drone strike that assassinated Quasem Solemani, an Iranian general officer. The Iranians used the strike as an opportunity to demonstrate the accuracy and power of their weapons, which worked as advertised. The message was “we can destroy you” which is a really, really upsetting message for the US military. They’re used to being the ones who chest-thump, not the ones who cower in holes while high explosive disintegrates their facilities.


Here’s how Senior Master Sgt. Noal Yarnes described what the impact of the first missile felt like:

“The bass resonating through the floor and walls of the bunker was met by muffled vocalizations I can’t quite quantify as screams,” said Yarnes, of the 443rd Air Expeditionary Squadron. “The sound was more guttural, as if pushed from inside the human body by an involuntary spasm of clenched muscles.”

Staff Sgt. Brian Sermons, of the 22nd Expeditionary Weather Squadron, described the first explosion as “soul-shaking.”

“Three more missiles hit – one within 150 meters of our bunkers,” Sermons said. “We could hear a shower of debris raining over the bunkers, smoke and dust filling the air inside. Aside from our shaky breathing, an eerie silence followed, then we heard rounds of ammo cooking off.”

And one anonymous airman said he clutched his M-4 carbine as missiles landed all around him. When a tent caught fire, the ammunition stored inside it began to explode.

Expecting that he would be killed at any moment, the airmen thought about his daughters.

“They love for me to sing ‘You are my sunshine,’ so I started singing quietly to myself and I waited for that final moment,” the airman said. “I had fully accepted that I would die in that shelter with my team.”

Nobody should have to experience such a thing. But this is only newsworthy because it’s Americans on the receiving end of modern artillery – civilians and insurgents around the world call this sort of experience, “monday.” I think it’s great that these US soldiers are speaking about how unpleasant the experience was but, remember, they’re combatants in uniform – they’re not civilians in Raqqa on the receiving end of US white phosphorus 150mm artillery. I’m glad that a few US soldiers have figured out that being bombarded sucks.

Lt. Col. Staci Coleman, commander of the 443rd Air Expeditionary Squadron, later talked about what it was like deciding which of her troops would be evacuated and which had to stay behind.

“I was being forced to gamble with my members’ lives by something I couldn’t control,” Coleman said. “I was deciding who would live and would die. I honestly thought anyone remaining behind would perish. I didn’t believe anyone would survive a ballistic missile attack and it made me feel sick and helpless.”

Again, I’m glad that a senior US officer has realized that it sucks to have to endure something that they can’t control. Holy shit, that sucks! Where was Coleman during the strike? I suspect that if Lt. Col. Coleman had been down there among the explosions, there’d be some “holy shit explosions suck!” observations, as well. I’m not trying to dismiss the emotional suffering of a REMF who has to leave a few troops behind to show the flag in an explosion demo… But – seriously – the whole situation was a deranged demonstration of nationalism: nobody had to be there. The whole base complement could have formed up and marched a mile north and set up cameras and a barbecue. But, no, they had to stay there so the flag could keep flying in a great big exercise of counter-counter stupidity to the Iranians’ stupid response to the US’ stupid assassination. If you facto that in, Lt. Coleman should have been saying “It made me feel sick and helpless to be sucked into this cycle of stupidity, why couldn’t the US have just negotiated with the Iranians instead of using high explosive? High explosive sucks.” You know what? Pretty much everyone in the Middle East knows high explosive sucks except the American colonial invaders.

The fact that no U.S. service members were killed in the attack initially led to speculation that the Iranians had aimed their ballistic missiles in order to avoid hitting barracks and other structures housing U.S. troops.

But Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters immediately following the attack that he felt the Iranians had indeed tried to kill U.S. troops.

“The points of impact were close enough to personnel and equipment and so on and so forth, I believe based on what I saw and what I knew that they were attempting to cause structural damage; destroy vehicles and equipment and aircraft; and to kill personnel,” Milley said.

Well, sort of. See, maybe the Iranians didn’t think the US commanding officers would force their troops to stand their ground instead of marching off to a barbecue a mile away. After all, they did give the US 3+ hours’ warning. 24 hours before the attack, the Iranians announced they were going to fire upon a US base, and hours before the attack they announced the specific base and the time. Were they trying to kill personnel? Maybe they thought they were going to cull a few of the dumb ones? In an old school military, I’d have expected the base commander to send the troops out on a barbecue/recon mission en masse, while remaining behind next to the flagpole, standing at parade rest.

Here’s where it gets more surreal: the US has released video footage of the ballistic missiles inbound, beating the shit out of their base.

Newly-released video shows what it was like for US troops under Iranian missile attack

The video actually shows no such thing. It’s a drone’s-eye view of the missiles coming in and making explosions. It demonstrates that, even though the base commanders felt they needed to order some of their troops to stay behind and face the high explosive, they did think to put up a drone with thermal imaging to catch the heat trails of the inbound warheads. I am frankly surprised that they didn’t have a camera zoom in on the base commander, standing at parade rest, while “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night, that our flag was still there…” (pan and zoom in on the flag, still standing, against the background of burning expensive stuff).

So, we still don’t know what it was like. Except that it was like every other soldier or civilian’s experience of being bombarded with high explosive: it sucked.

‘Progressive’ president Joe Biden decided to demonstrate his administration’s more competent foreign policy by shooting some US missiles at an Iranian base (in Syria), in what’s a double-ended violation of international law. The Iranians were not (apparently) warned of the inbound ordnance. It’s OK, though, we are to believe, because the US was only trying to destroy the building, not necessarily anyone who was inside of the building at the time. See, we’re the good guys – we only bomb buildings not people. People in the building are “collateral damage” etc.

“We have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” Mr. Kirby said.

Wrap your mind around that for a second. In the US, an air-strike is “de-escalation.” As in “Bruce Lee really de-escalated Mr Han’s ass, in that final fight scene.”


  1. komarov says

    “””“We have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” Mr. Kirby said.”””

    The oft-forgotten by-line to “freedom and democracy” is “peace of the grave.”

    Based on the video zero infirmaries were targeted. I just found that noteworthy for some reason. Preferred targets were apparently “aircraft maintenance facilities” and related things, i.e. military infrastructure, and … “dining facilities?” The latter makes me wonder just how much creativity was employed in labelling the videos. Are there really no less than two mess halls right next to the runways or were these a vending machine and a NAAFI shop? Some nearby offices I’d expect but the other “living spaces” seem oddly placed. I know, I know, suspecting the US military of trying to put a spin on things is so unfair.

    The Colonel’s quote is also a bit disturbing. One of us, her or me, have very different expectations when it comes to warfare, not that I have any personal experience whatsoever. But “being forced to gamble with my members’ lives by something I couldn’t control” sounds like the kind of thing you should anticipate when accepting a command in a warzone. Sorry, boots-on-the-ground-zone with imperfect hearts-and-mind-ownership. Are US officers trained to assume no one will ever fight back?

  2. says

    Like any bully that goes without retaliation for a long time, this one expected to remain unchallenged, and was genuinely shocked that it happened. The only question is, which scared the bully more: the force of the blow, or that one came at all?

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Gotta say, the enlisted grunts spoke with exceptional articulacy.

    The linked article does not mention what earlier reports did, that “[a] U.S. contractor died …” during the attack. I have wondered repeatedly since whether this person was some stealth mercenary, but seeing now that the brass had hours of advance notice, feel fairly sure that he(?) was much more probably a lowly repair technician or the like, probably not even pale.

  4. jrkrideau says

    I keep seeing that Biden bombed Syria. I am pretty sure that in was Iraqi militia on the Iraqi side of the border crossing–assuming they hit what they were aiming at.

    Re Iranian attack
    Were they trying to kill personnel?
    Almost certainly not. From what I have read the attacks were very precise and intended as a very clear message that there really was no US base in the Middle east that was not vulnerable.

    And, as you say, the Iranians supplied a 3 hour warning. They probably did not expect the US to be stupid enough to leave troops on the base. The Syrians were smart enough to evacuate bases when Trump went all presidential and launched a missile attack.

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ 5 Pierce R. Butler
    …contractor died

    I think you are mixing up two attacks. The one Marcus is referring to is the Iranian missile attack on Al Asad Air Base back in January or February of 2020.. The recent one where the contractor died was some minor attack by an unidentified group on some forward US base somewhere in Syria.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    jrkrideau @ # 7: I think you are mixing up two attacks.

    Quite possibly. But the 3/3/21 report cited by our esteemed host describes a 1/8/20 retaliation for the 1/3/20 assassination of General Solemani, and the multiple reports included in my link apparently describe the same time and place; some but not all mention “a US contractor” conveniently ignored (yes, I read the whole thing) by taskandpurpose.com.

    My usual go-to for such questions, icasualties.com, which reports on at least some non-uniformed casualties, shows only one fatality in January of 2020, and that in Syria – but described as “Non-hostile – vehicle accident (rollover)”. So the American who died at Al-Asad (or wherever) 14 months ago must have been either Super-Secret-Squirrel or an utter peon.

  7. says

    How I would love to hear you and ‘Beau of the Fifth Column’ discuss US foreign policy together.

    I hadn’t really looked at any of his material, so I wasn’t sure whether you were expecting a lithium/water reaction, or more of a garlic butter/bread reaction. I’m still not sure. He’s obviously an interesting and thoughtful guy; some of the things I gleaned about him put him in the “more likely to support imperialism” column, though I wonder if he even contextualizes it that way.

    It would be a good time. My experience with trying to contact youtubers and other bloggers has been mixed – it’s hard to arrange such conversations and in this case it really doesn’t fit either of our formats.

  8. says

    @9 Marcus

    Not an imperialist. He’s mentioned many times how he would rather the US not be involved in any of these wars, but he talks about likelihoods and practicalities and real policies, so that’s generally in passing with an acknowledgement that the real governments are not going to do the things he would ultimately prefer.

    I think you’d agree on a lot, and the things you would disagree on would be fascinating, resulting in deeply-considered reasoning that sheds light on multiple sides of an issue. Not quite as tasty-sympatico as “garlic butter/bread”, but I’d be expecting an interesting and pleasant experience for all concerned (barring the troubling implications of the topics at hand), not some explosive screamy waste of time.

    But, like the man says, “it’s just a thought”. I wasn’t making a practical suggestion, I would have no idea how to connect you to get that sort of discussion into existence either nor in what medium. You’re just the two commentators I currently have experience of who discuss US foreign policy in detail, dissecting it to find its intent in terms of cynical non-governmental profiteering (mostly you) and big-picture international diplomatic goals (mostly him).

  9. John Morales says

    I’ve been watching Beau for a few months — nice short videos, can speed them up to 1.3 without losing anything (he speaks really slowly).

    Thing is, he has huge respect for the military. Marcus, not so much.

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