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Dozens of US soldiers suffered traumatic brain injuries in Iran attack, says the Pentagon

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U.S. Soldiers walk past a site of Iranian bombing at Ain al-Asad air base, in Anbar, Iraq, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020.
U.S. Soldiers walk past a site of Iranian bombing at Ain al-Asad air base, in Anbar, Iraq, Monday, Jan. 13, 2020.   -   Copyright  Qassim Abdul-Zahra / AP

Iran's military strike on a US airbase in Iraq left 34 soldiers with traumatic brain injuries, the Pentagon has admitted.

In the immediate aftermath of the 8 January attack — retaliation for the assassination of Iran military chief Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike — US President Donald Trump took to Twitter to claim no troops had been injured.

Half of the 34 injured have now returned to military duties, according to Jonathan Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesman.

The military said symptoms were not immediately reported after the strike and in some cases became known days later. Many were in bunkers before nearly a dozen Iranian ballistic missiles exploded, damaging several parts of the base.

After the first reports that some soldiers had been hurt, Trump referred to them as `headaches and said the cases were not as serious as injuries involving the loss of limbs.

Hoffman's disclosure that 34 had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, or TBI, was the first update on the number injured in Iran's missile attack on Ain al-Asad airbase in western Iraq since the Pentagon said on 17 January that 11 service members had been flown out of Iraq with concussion-like symptoms. Days later, officials said more had been sent out of Iraq for further diagnosis and treatment, but the Pentagon did not provide firm figures on the total or say whether any had been returned to duty.

Hoffman said that of the 34 with TBI, 18 were evacuated from Iraq to U.S. medical facilities in Germany and Kuwait, and 16 stayed in Iraq. Seventeen of the 18 evacuees were sent to Germany, and nine remain there; the other eight have been transported to the United States for continued observation or treatment.

The one American sent to Kuwait has since returned to duty in Iraq. All 16 of those who were diagnosed with TBI and remained in Iraq have since returned to duty there, Hoffman said.

The eight who were sent to the United States arrived Friday and will receive treatment either at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland or at their home bases, Hoffman said.

The US had no missile defence systems protecting Ain al-Asad from potential missile attack. Hoffman said Friday that deploying one or more Patriot anti-missile systems to Iraq is among options now being weighted by military commanders. The US had deployed numerous Patriot systems to other countries in the region as protection against Iranian missile attack, including in Saudi Arabia, but a strike on Iraq was seen as less likely.

Trump has repeatedly claimed that no Americans were harmed in the missile strikes, an outcome that he said drove his decision not to retaliate further and risk a broader war with Iran. He credited the minimised damage to an early warning system ``that worked very well`` and said Americans should be ``extremely grateful and happy'' with the outcome.

Some members of Congress this week pressed the Pentagon for more clarity on the scope of the TBI cases resulting from the Iranian attack. Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., wrote senior Pentagon officials on Thursday requesting additional details on casualties from the attack.

On Friday morning, Defense Secretary Mark Esper directed the Pentagon's acting undersecretary of defence for personnel and readiness, Matthew Donovan, to begin working with the staff of the Joint Chiefs to review how military injuries are tracked and reported not just TBI cases but battlefield injuries of all kinds, Hoffman told reporters.

``The goal is to be as transparent, accurate, and to provide the American people and our service members with the best information about the tremendous sacrifices our warfighters make,'' Hoffman said.