January 23, 2020
Defense Secretary Refuses To Say How Many Americans Suffered Brain Injuries In Iran Attack: 'I'm Not A Doctor'

In the immediate aftermath of missile attacks by Iran on two military bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq on January 8, the Pentagon, as well as Donald Trump, claimed that Americans stationed there suffered no casualties. But eight days later, reports out of the Pentagon put the number of injured U.S. soldiers at 11.

The soldiers, the reports said, were flown out of Iraq to receive treatment for traumatic brain injuries, at hospitals in Germany and in Kuwait. But on Thursday, the Pentagon appeared to shift its report on U.S. casualties in the attack again.

In a press conference at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper claimed that he now could not say how many U.S. service members had suffered traumatic brain injuries in the attack.

"I just don't — I don't know those numbers, right," Esper said, according to a transcript of the press conference posted online by the Department of Defense. Esper added that the Pentagon can track that if reporters were really interested.

When asked about the seriousness of the brain injuries suffered by the affected troops, Esper again declined to answer the question.

"I'm not a doctor and I'm not the ones evaluating them," Esper said in the Pensacola press exchange.

Donald Trump leaves the White House
Getty Images | Win McNamee
Donald Trump dismissed brain injuries suffered by U.S. troops in Iraq as 'headaches.'

Trump on Wednesday was also asked about the seriousness of the traumatic brain injuries suffered by U.S. troops in the attack. The assault was launched by Iran as retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani by a drone strike, which was ordered by Trump.

Trump, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, appeared to shrug off the seriousness of the brain injuries.

"I heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things," Trump said, adding that he considered the brain injuries "not very serious." He then said that "people with no legs and no arms," had suffered what he viewed as "really bad injuries."

Even the number of injured troops now appears uncertain, according to Washington Post military correspondent Dan Lamothe.

Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, a senior commander with the U.S. mission in Iraq and Syria, put the number of service members injured in the January 8 missile strikes higher than 11, saying that it was "in the teens," according to a report via Twitter by Lamothe.

The U.S. Central Command — the unified combatant command responsible for U.S. military activities in the Middle East — told Associated Press reporter Robert Burns that it would not "play this game," referring to "factual information about these injuries, which I pointed out are not a 'game,'" Burns wrote, via his Twitter account.