At 10:51 on 14 March, as many as 34 107mm Katyusha rockets were fired towards Taji Military Base, located north of Baghdad city. Operation Inherent Resolve confirmed at least 25 rockets impacted at the base. As a result, three CF personnel were wounded along with two ISF personnel. The Iraqi Joint Operations Command reported that 33 rockets impacted in and around the base, initially only acknowledging two ISF casualties from an air defense unit. The extent of damage affecting the facility was unclear.
ISF located the point of origin at a garage in the Umm al-Idham area, located roughly 7km south of the base in an area near Highway 1. The Joint Operations Command claimed that in addition to the 33 rockets that launched, ISF found and cleared 24 rockets recovered on seven rocket launcher platforms. Each platform contained eight rocket tubes for a total of 56 rockets, representing a slight disparity with the total of 57 cited.
However, one image clearly depicted 30 rockets recovered by ISF after failing to fire. It is possible that ISF may have located another eight-tube launcher platform not depicted in available images, with associated reporting challenges commonplace. Accordingly, it is possible that as many as 34 rockets may have launched out of 64 total intended. The Baghdad Operations Command said that ISF arrested the garage owner along with personnel from a nearby police checkpoint in a rare response to apparent complicity.
The Joint Operations Command vowed to locate and prosecute the unnamed perpetrators of this “hostile act” and breach of Iraqi sovereignty. The statement called on the US-led Coalition to exercise restraint in light of the 13 March airstrikes, which were similarly condemned.
Large-scale rocket attack coincides with expected tit-for-tat responses:
The 14 March attack closely follows a large-scale rocket attack against the same base on 11 March, which killed three CF personnel. Responses included a series of airstrikes against PMF locations. This included US airstrikes against five sites described as weapon storage facilities used by Kata’ib Hezbollah in Babel and Karbala provinces on 13 March. The 14 March rocket attack was assessed to comprise a hastily planned retaliatory attack, with such tit-for-tat actions anticipated during this period. The repeat targeting of Taji Military Base at such a short interval likely reflected a combination of elevated attack intent, the significant freedom of movement enjoyed by Iranian proxies in environments north of Baghdad, and previous attack planning efforts surrounding the initial attack on 11 March.
The 14 March attack also stands out for boldly occurring during daylight hours, representing a clear deviation from established patterns for indirect fire attacks during hours of darkness between 20:00 and 03:30. The launch of as many as 34 rockets was consistent with the 35 rockets apparently launched 11 March attack. However, the intended employment of at least 56 rockets or as many as 64 rockets arguably represented the largest-scale rocket attack against US interests in Iraq since the 2003-2011 Second Iraq War. Along with the sophisticated launch platforms and attack timing during active working hours, intent to generate significant CF casualties was undoubtedly in effect. The relatively moderate CF casualties likely reflected a combination of established force protection measures enhanced by a heightened state of alert.
For further analysis and discussions see our full report.