The number of troops diagnosed with traumatic brain injury following Iran's ballistic missile attack on Al Asad airbase, Iraq has now risen to 109, the Pentagon said Monday.
The latest figures represent a dramatic increase from the last Pentagon injury report published in late January, which listed 74 TBI victims. They also mean that at least 5% of the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops at Al Asad suffered from the concussive effects of about 15 Iranian missiles fired at the airbase.
All 109 cases of TBI have been diagnosed as "mild traumatic brain injury," the Pentagon said in a statement, but the injuries were deemed serious enough to send 48 of those troops to medical facilities in Landstuhl, Germany, or the U.S. for further evaluation.
The numbers could go up again, the Pentagon said, but added that about 70% of the total of 109 troops diagnosed thus far with TBI have already returned to duty in Iraq.
The Jan. 8 missile attack on Al Asad was retaliation for a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad International Airport on Jan. 3 that killed Iranian Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani.
In a White House news conference on Jan. 4, President Donald Trump said initial reports indicated that there were no injuries to U.S. troops from the Iranian attack. When reports of TBI surfaced, Trump likened the injuries to "headaches," drawing criticism from veterans groups.
"We are grateful to the efforts of our medical professionals who have worked diligently to ensure the appropriate level of care for our service members, which has enabled nearly 70 percent of those diagnosed to return to duty," Pentagon Press Secretary Alyssa Farah said in a statement accompanying the most recent assessment.
Last week, Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said at a Pentagon briefing that those who suffered TBI at Al Asad could be eligible for Purple Hearts, but noted the service branches would make final decisions on the awards.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.