- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2020

Thirty-four U.S. troops suffered traumatic brain injuries as a result of the Jan. 8 Iranian ballistic missile attack on an Iraqi military base used by American forces, Pentagon officials said Friday, revealing that many more service members were affected by the strike than initially reported.

President Trump and military officials initially said there had been no major injuries as a result of the assault; the president cited that as a prime reason for his decision to not attack Iran directly in response to the strike on Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.

The strike on American troops came amid high tensions between the U.S. and Iran, just days after a U.S. airstrike killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani near Baghdad’s airport.

The Pentagon later revealed that 11 troops were treated for concussion symptoms in the days following the attack, but Friday’s comments confirm the actual number was much higher.

Earlier in the week, Mr. Trump downplayed the brain injuries, saying they were “headaches and a couple of other things, but I would say, and I can report, it is not very serious.”

“I don’t consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I’ve seen I’ve seen people with no legs and with no arms,” Mr. Trump said during a news conference in Davos, Switzerland. ” No, I do not consider that [concussions] to be bad injuries, no.”

Seventeen of the 34 troops remain under medical observation.

Concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury, has been the most common serious injury to U.S. military personnel since 2000, with more than 408,000 cases diagnosed, according to the Military Times.

Mr. Trump’s comments prompted calls for an apology from a leading veteran’s group and the two senior Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said in a statement that while Mr. Trump may not have meant to disrespect the troops by minimizing their injuries, the president “owes them an apology.”

“[Traumatic brain injury] is a serious matter. It is not a ‘headache,’ and it’s plain wrong for President Trump to diminish their wounds,” Mr. Reed said.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire on Sunday joined Mr. Reed’s call for a presidential apology and said Mr. Trump’s “ignorant comments are a step backwards, especially coming from the commander in chief.”

“For generations, battlefield traumatic brain injuries were not understood and often dismissed,” Ms. Shaheen said in a statement. “As a society, we’ve come a long way to better recognize and treat TBI, and sympathize with those who are suffering.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, defended the president’s assertion and said Mr. Trump wasn’t “dismissing” the injuries by calling them headaches.

In an interview with CBS News on Sunday, Mr. Cotton, who served in the Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom, said the president was “describing their injuries. He’s not dismissing their injuries.”

Mr. Cotton rejected the idea that the president should apologize for his comments. He said “if they are in fact, all these injuries are not serious, if they’re on the less serious side of the scale than the severe traumatic side of the scale, the president is just describing what happened. And I’m not dismissing them.”

Ben Wolfgang contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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