- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Iraqi government has yet to give its approval to a Pentagon request for Patriot missile defenses for U.S. troops more than three weeks after an Iranian missile attack on American positions inside the country injured dozens of U.S. troops, Defense Secretary Mark Esper acknowledged Thursday.

The presence of some 5,000 American troops inside Iraq has become a divisive political issue in Baghdad, with some Iraqi leaders saying they don’t want to be drawn into a hot war between Washington and Tehran.

The Patriot deployment is “one of the matters we have to work on and work through,” Mr. Esper told reporters at a Thursday Pentagon briefing. “We need the permission of the Iraqis.”

Iraqi lawmakers passed a resolution to expel U.S. troops from their country after a Jan. 5 airstrike that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and senior Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. According to the Associated Press, outgoing Prime Minister AdilAbduhl-Mahdi has said steps are being taken to “move the process forward.”

Mr. Esper didn’t say if Iraqi leaders are balking at the idea of moving a Patriot unit — possibly from Saudi Arabia — into Iraq to protect American troops. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a green light from Baghdad is only part of the challenge U.S. commanders face.

“A Patriot battalion is not a small organization. The mechanics of it all have to be worked out,” Gen. Milley said.

Gen. Milley that shooting down the type of theater ballistic missiles that Iran fired Jan. 8 at two U.S. positions “is exactly what [the Patriots] were designed to do.”

While the Patriot request is still in limbo, U.S. and Iraq forces resumed joint military operations against Islamic State positions inside Iraq for the first time in three weeks, the Associated Press reported, citing an Iraqi military statement Thursday.

The statement said the joint operations were resuming even as Iraqi officials consider a “new relationship” with the U.S. military and its allies inside the country.

On a related topic, Mr. Esper told reporters that U.S. statements immediately after Iran’s attack that there were no American casualties were “accurate at that time,” the Pentagon now says that 50 or more U.S. troops have been diagnosed with what Pentagon officials said was “mild traumatic brain injury” because of the attacks.

Comments from President Trump that seemed to minimize what he called the “headaches” sustained by the U.S. troops has drawn a sharp rebuke from the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“TBI is a serious injury and one that cannot be taken lightly. TBI is known to cause depression, memory loss, severe headaches, dizziness and fatigue — all injuries that come with both short- and long-term effects,” said William Schmitz, the VFW’s national commander. “Our warriors require our full support more than ever in this challenging environment.”

Mr. Esper rejected the notion that President Trump doesn’t care about injured U.S. troops.

“He is very concerned about the health and welfare of our service members - particularly those involved in operations in Iraq,” he said.

The military health care reporting system that would list a brain concussion as a mere “non serious injury” could change in the future, Pentagon officials said.

“These things are cumulative, too. If you get multiple concussions, that could manifest itself down the road,” Gen. Milley said.

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