RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The Trump administration knew it was coming. Iran promised vengeance for the U.S. killing of its top general, Qassem Soleimani. Here's what Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told NPR yesterday.
MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: The United States has committed a grave error - a grave error - and it should pay for that grave error.
MARTIN: Iran's payback came in the form of missile strikes. More than a dozen ballistic missiles hit two military bases in Iraq that house American troops. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman starts off our coverage this hour. Tom, thanks for being here.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good to be here.
MARTIN: What can you tell us about these bases? How many U.S. troops are stationed there?
BOWMAN: Well, we don't have the exact number at these bases. The one is al-Asad Air Base west of Baghdad. It's a very large base. You're talking at least hundreds of troops. And then the other base was in Irbil in the northern part of Iraq. Again, no estimate of exactly how many troops - they tend to keep that pretty quiet - but probably hundreds of troops as well. And what we know is that at least a dozen ballistic missiles were fired from Iran. Most of these missiles hit at al-Asad Air Base. They're saying roughly 10 or so. No sense of any casualties yet. As a matter of fact, President Trump, about four hours after these predawn attacks, tweeted that all is well. So initial indications are no American or Iraqi casualties. But, again, we don't have any firm information yet. And the same is true at Irbil at a base up there, although we don't have the name of that base. No indications of either American or coalition or Iraqi casualties at this point. And the president said we're still trying to assess the damage at both locations.
MARTIN: Although it's interesting. These - the missiles originated from Iran, right?
BOWMAN: That's right.
MARTIN: And that sends a particular message.
BOWMAN: Oh, absolutely. There were indications there would - I mean, Iran said they would strike back in retaliation for the killing of Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force.
MARTIN: But they didn't come from an exterior base somewhere. This was meant to be a very clear, decisive message.
BOWMAN: Oh, absolutely. And they called this Operation Martyr Soleimani. Clearly, the Americans were braced for attacks in Iraq because, overall, there are 5,000 American forces there. There was a sense that some of these bases would be hit. I think the indication was - or the expectation was that the proxy forces, the Quds Forces or the Iranian-backed militias, would fire mortars or rockets from inside Iraq at these bases. So it is remarkable that they did come from Iran.
MARTIN: Just to express their regional reach. What are you hearing, Tom? Just in the halls of the Pentagon, are you hearing about an overall strategy?
BOWMAN: No. That's been a problem all along. What is the strategy? What is a way ahead with Iran? You know, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters he hopes that Iran will de-escalate. And that was a day or two before these ballistic missile attacks. So the big question now is if there are no American casualties, no Iraqi or coalition casualties, will the U.S. respond some way to this? So the president has said there are 52 targets in Iran that they could strike, but, frankly, they may just decide if there are no casualties, maybe they won't strike back. But we'll have a better sense today. The president is expected to go out sometime this morning, and there'll be some sort of Pentagon briefing as well. We'll get a better sense of the way ahead.
MARTIN: OK. NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman following that angle. Thank you.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.