OTTAWA — The Department of National Defence reported all Canadian service members safe following a rocket attack on a military base in Iraq Wednesday.
The attack killed at least two Americans and a British soldier and left another dozen military personnel wounded.
The strike was on Camp Taji, one of the bases that have been home to Canadian military personnel involved in a NATO mission to train Iraqi soldiers as part of the effort to defeat the Islamic State of the Iraq and the Levant.
“The Canadian Armed Forces is aware of the rocket attack in Taji,” Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said in a statement.
“All Canadian Armed Forces members in the area are confirmed safe and accounted for. For reasons of operations security, we will not provide any specific details about the numbers or location of Canadian Armed Forces personnel in the area.”
Canada has around 500 military personnel in Iraq to help train local forces and assist them in the fight against ISIL.
U.S. officials said one of five service members injured in the attack was seriously wounded and evacuated from the Camp Taji base and seven others were still being evaluated. Buildings on the base were in flames.
Several other U.S. officials confirmed that U.S. troops had been killed and injured, but did not provide numbers. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to give details of the attack ahead of a public announcement.
Army Col. Myles Caggins, a U.S. military spokesperson in Iraq, said on Twitter that more than 15 small rockets hit Camp Taji, which is north of Baghdad. He provided no details. Another U.S. official said that as many as 30 rockets were fired from a truck launcher, and 18 hit the base.
Officials did not say what group they believe launched the rocket attack, but Kataib Hezbollah or another Iranian-backed Shia militia group is likely.
Kataib Hezbollah was responsible for a late December rocket attack on a military base in Kirkuk that killed a U.S. contractor, prompting American military strikes in response.
That in turn led to protests at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. They were followed Jan. 3 by a U.S. airstrike that killed Iran’s most powerful military officer, Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a leader of the Iran-backed militias in Iraq, of which Kataib Hezbollah is a member.
A senior Canadian general this week identified Iranian-backed Shia militia groups as a greater threat to Canadian soldiers than ISIL.
“I am more concerned about that swath of Shia militia groups than I necessarily am about Daesh because Daesh has been defeated militarily,” Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, told a parliamentary committee on Monday.
“These Shia militia groups that we’re concerned about are very well-equipped. They have tube artillery. They have multiple-launch rocket systems and armed UAVs. … They are a proto-state entity equipped like a state military, and so yes, I’m very concerned about them.”
Later on Wednesday, Syrian opposition activists and a war monitor reported an airstrike that targeted Iranian militia positions along the Iraq-Syria border.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported 10 airstrikes carried out by three unidentified aircraft that targeted pro-Iran militias in the Boukamal region in eastern Syria, near the border with Iraq. The Britain-based Observatory, which monitors the Syria war through a network of activists on the ground, said at least 10 explosions were heard in the region but said there was no immediate word on casualties.
U.S. officials said the strike was not related to the Taji base strike at all. But it was not immediately clear who conducted the attack.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2020.
—With files from The Associated Press
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press