However, Iranian state media and regional allies have claimed far more. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, multiple outlets linked to the Iranian government suggested — without evidence — that 80 U.S. military personnel were killed and more than 200 wounded in the attack.
On Thursday, after the U.S. military confirmed that troops have been treated for mild concussions after the attack, some supporters of the Iranian government mocked the reports. One tweet suggested that next the United States would soon announce that its soldiers had also suffered a “mild death.”
“Iran needs the PR messaging that its strikes were successful,” said Ariane Tabatabai, an Iran analyst at the Rand Corp. The need was amplified after Tehran admitted to accidentally shooting down an airliner and killing more than 170 people, she added.
In an article Friday, Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency, citing anonymous sources, repeated earlier claims that the strikes killed 80 U.S. service members. Iran’s supreme leader, speaking at Friday prayers, said the strike delivered a “strong blow” to America’s superpower image, although he did not mention a death toll.
“For a nation to have the ability to slap the face of the world’s bully, this shows the power of God,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a sermon at the Grand Mosalla mosque complex in central Tehran, where he led Friday prayers for the first time in eight years.
“It’s a way for the regime to save face — at home and abroad,” said Jason Brodsky, policy director at the advocacy group United Against a Nuclear Iran. It was “also in line with the supreme leader’s conspiratorial worldview,” which sees nefarious U.S. plots across the region, Brodsky added.
There is no evidence that any U.S. personnel were killed in the attacks on Ain al-Asad base — strikes launched days after a U.S. drone killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force, in Baghdad.
On Thursday, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, said that a letter attributed to him that claimed to show evidence of deaths in the attack was fake. “My office has not received a letter from the Dept. of Defense,” he wrote on Twitter. “Nor have I written the Dept. of Defense on this topic.”
The forged letter, which claimed to be a Freedom of Information Act appeal to the Office of the Chief Management Officer at the Pentagon, suggested that 139 people were killed and 146 others were wounded in the attack early Jan. 8.
An image of the letter was shared on social media by individuals linked to Iraq’s pro-Iranian militias, who also shared a clip of a call made to C-SPAN’s Washington Journal on Wednesday morning in which a distraught caller said his son, deployed to Ain al-Asad, was missing.
“I don’t know if he is alive or if he is dead,” the heavily accented caller, identified as Alan from Illinois, said while crying. “Damn Trump. God damn Trump.” C-SPAN did not respond to a request for more information about the call on Friday.
Groups linked to the Iranian government have been accused of spreading misinformation in the past. In October, Facebook announced that it had removed a number of fake Iranian accounts that were spreading false information. Think tanks and U.S. military commanders have complained of being targeted by hoax reports and spoofed accounts.
Shortly after the Jan. 8 strike on Ain al-Asad air base, Kuwait’s government said its state news agency was hacked and that a statement announcing that all U.S. military forces in Kuwait would be withdrawn was incorrect.
The Iranian government has faced domestic and international criticism after not only shooting down Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 75 on the same night it struck Ain al-Asad, but also waiting days to publicly confirm it had done so.
Even if Iran may not have wanted U.S. casualties, “admitting that its strikes didn’t lead to any U.S. fatalities while admitting to killing more than 170 of its citizens would be admitting double failure,” Tabatabai said. Officially listed among the dead were 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, including the crew. Most, if not all, of the Canadians were reported to be of Iranian origin or dual nationals.
In the aftermath of the attack on Ain al-Asad, President Trump initially said that “no Americans were harmed” and that “we suffered no casualties.”
But U.S. officials disclosed Monday that there had been a number of concussions and subsequently announced that 11 U.S. troops were sent abroad for medical treatment — eight of them to Germany and three to Kuwait.