U.S. Military Will Be Studying Brain Injuries From Iran Ballistic Missile Attacks 'For Years,' Pentagon Official Says

Military scientists will be studying injuries sustained in Iran's ballistic missile attack on American troops for years to come, a top Pentagon official has said.

Joint Staff Surgeon Air Force Brigadier General Paul Friedrichs told reporters at a Monday briefing it was "extraordinary" that no U.S. troops were seriously injured in the January 8 attack on two Iraqi military bases hosting American soldiers.

U.S. forces initially reported no casualties, but it later emerged that at least 110 soldiers sustained traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) from the 11 impacts at the Ain al Asad base in Iraq's Anbar province. Those affected exhibited a range of symptoms, Friedrichs explained Monday, but none were classified as serious. Most have now returned to active duty.

Though normal examinations and MRI scans reveal much about TBI, Friedrichs said it is difficult to establish the extent of the injuries without taking samples from affected brains to study under microscopes, something done post-mortem.

Friedrichs—a neurologic surgeon by training—said TBI can be in the form of bruising on or bleeding in the brain—which can be seen on MRIs—or microscopic damage to nerves, which can only be identified in tissue samples with microscopes.

"The most definitive diagnosis is done after someone has died," he said. "But we'd prefer not to get to that point."

"We're a learning organization," Friedrich continued. "We're going to tear this data apart, in all likelihood, for years, comparing it with other datasets [from other conflicts and incidents]." He said the Pentagon intends to "learn as much from this as we can" through a "continuous learning process" that will last "a long time."

The Iranian attack—named Operation Martyr Soleimani after the major general assassinated by the U.S. days before—involved more than a dozen Fateh-110 missiles, 11 of which landed at the Asad base.

The missiles can carry a warhead of some 1,000 pounds—far larger than any U.S. forces have faced in recent low-intensity guerrilla wars in the region.

"No one lost a leg. No one lost an eye. No one lost a limb, which, you know, was remarkable, given the strength of these munitions," Friedrichs explained.

U.S. forces were pre-warned of the attack and most were able to take shelter in bunkers, though this did not entirely protect them from the concussive shock waves.

TBI symptoms include headaches, dizziness, memory problems, balance problems, nausea, vomiting, difficulty concentrating, irritability, visual disturbance and ringing in the ears.

Freidrichs said that six service members are still going through diagnosis, but that "every single person that we've identified is getting the treatment that they need."

Friedrichs noted that the bunkers were "very effective at protecting people from acute traumatic injuries.

"And that's a good news story that these service members who were exposed to a very significant attack did not have shrapnel or other life, limb or eyesight-type injuries there."

The Pentagon is already field testing pressure sensors that in future could give a clearer picture of who was exposed to dangerous blasts, Friedrichs said. "If your tracker shows that you were exposed to a blast event, then we're going ahead and evaluating those folks to see whether they have traumatic brain injury."

Ain al-Asad, Iran, missile, attack, brain, injuries
A picture taken on January 13, 2020 shows damage at the Ain al Asad military airbase housing U.S. and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar. AYMAN HENNA/AFP via Getty Images/Getty