US launches air strikes in Iraq after rocket attack kills British army medic
The US has launched air strikes in Iraq after a “hugely popular” British army medic was killed in a missile attack on a military base.
Lance Corporal Brodie Gillon, 26, who served as a Reserve with the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry, died after a dozen missiles were fired at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad, on Wednesday.
The US air strikes were a joint operation with the British to target the Iranian-backed Shia militia members who are thought to have been behind the deadly rocket attack, according to a US official.
Two US servicemen were also killed in the attack, and another 14 military personnel were injured, according to the US Defence Department who described the action as defensive precision strikes on five weapon storage facilities.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said: “The United States will not tolerate attacks against our people, our interests, or our allies.
“As we have demonstrated in recent months, we will take any action necessary to protect our forces in Iraq and the region.”
Weapons facilities belonging to Kataib Hezbollah, who have been designated a “foreign terrorist organisation” by the US State Department since 2009, were among the targets.
The strikes come two months after Iran carried out a massive ballistic missile attack against American troops at a base in Iraq.
L/Cpl Gillon was killed while volunteering as part of the Irish Guards Battle Group during their deployment to Iraq, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
She joined the regiment in September 2015 as a Combat Medical Technician, before qualifying as a Class 1 Combat Medical Technician in 2018.
Lieutenant Colonel William Leek, Commanding Officer Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry, said she was a “hugely popular character”, adding he was “proud and humbled” to have served alongside her.
He said: “She was a larger than life soldier who was determined to deploy on operations, help others, develop herself and gain practical experience.
“She had already achieved a great deal in her relatively short time with us and it was abundantly clear that she was destined for great things in her civilian and military careers. Her loss is keenly felt.
“My deepest condolences go to her family and loved ones. They are in my thoughts and prayers, and those of the wider Regimental family.”
Earlier on Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the attack would “not be tolerated”, while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was a “cowardly” act.
He added: “We will defend against these deplorable acts and hold those responsible to account.”
Major General Celia Harvey, the Deputy Commander Field Army, said L/Cpl Gillon was fulfilling a “long-term ambition” to serve on an operational tour in Iraq.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said it was clear L/Cpl Gillon was a “shining example of what our Armed Forces and Reserves stand for”, as he sent his condolences to her family.
General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM), told a US Senate committee in Washington he suspected Iranian proxy group Kataib Hezbollah was to blame because it is the “only group known” to have carried out similar attacks.
The attack coincided with what would have been the birthday of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in January.
The same month, the MoD told the PA news agency there were around 400 personnel in Iraq across three main bases – Camp Taji near Baghdad, Union III in Baghdad, and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Kataib Hezbollah was responsible for a rocket attack on a military base in Kirkuk in December that killed a US contractor, prompting American military strikes in response.
It led to protests at the US embassy in Baghdad, which was followed on January 3 by the air strike that killed Gen Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a leader of the Iran-backed militias in Iraq, of which Kataib Hezbollah is a member.