US soldiers earn Combat Action Badge for response during rocket attack in Baghdad
Stars and Stripes April 4, 2022
American soldiers in Iraq were awarded the Combat Action Badge for their response to an enemy attack that occurred days after the U.S.-led coalition transitioned from a combat mission to a strictly advisory and support role late last year.
Several members of the Army’s Task Force Pioneer were recognized recently for their actions the night of Dec. 19, 2021, when rockets targeted the coalition’s facility in Baghdad’s Green Zone, known as Union III.
In a ceremony at Union III on March 24, Lt. Col. Gregory Polk of the Fort Carson, Colo.-based 299th Brigade Engineer Battalion pinned the decorations on members of his own battalion and the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. Both are part of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
“The soldiers either responded directly to the threat or were within the radius of the kinetic effects of the munitions,” said Lt. Col. Gina “Flash” McKeen, a coalition spokesperson, in an email last week.
Two Katyusha rockets were launched at the compound near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, but caused no deaths or injuries, officials said in December. One was shot down by a C-RAM defensive battery, and one struck north of the coalition compound, damaging two civilian vehicles.
The CAB recognizes non-infantry soldiers who personally take offensive or defensive action while under hostile fire, and is intended to recognize the “greatly expanded role” those soldiers have in active ground combat, Army regulations say.
The coalition did not respond to a query last week about how many troops earned CABs for the December attack, but Army photos released online show dozens of recipients at the March ceremony.
Militia groups aligned with Iran have been blamed for dozens of rocket and “suicide drone” attacks, some of them deadly, launched against facilities housing Americans in Iraq in recent years.
They’re part of an effort to drive the U.S. from the region and pay back a 2020 U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
The persistent threat of militia attacks “drove the heightened security readiness posture and focused a considerable number of resources on the counter-UAV and counter-rocket, -artillery, and -mortar systems,” or C-RAMs, at the State Department’s Baghdad Diplomatic Security Compound, a government watchdog agency found.
The State Department planned to build hard covers for its diplomatic support hospital, dining facility and a secure fuel facility, the Lead Inspector General for the U.S.-led coalition said in a report released in February.
Militant groups conditioned the end of the attacks on the U.S. troops’ exit from Iraq.
Last July, President Joe Biden promised that combat troops would be withdrawn by the end of the year, and the coalition had announced the end of its combat mission in keeping with that pledge just days before the rockets fell on Union III last December.
But some 2,500 U.S. troops were to remain to help develop Iraq’s security forces and support their fight against remnants of the Islamic State group. Sporadic rocket and drone attacks continued into this year.
“Although the mission has changed, we retain the inherent right to self-defense in protecting coalition and Iraqi forces,” McKeen said this week.