ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
We have a significant development tonight in the escalating conflict between the U.S. and Iran. The Pentagon says Iran has fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at bases in Iraq where U.S. troops are housed. This is a rapidly developing story. And to bring us up to date, we're joined here in the studio by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What more can you tell us about these attacks tonight?
MYRE: Well, as we said, more than a dozen ballistic missiles - and we want to emphasize ballistic missiles. These are not sort of smaller rockets that you might fire. These are missiles that have come from Iran, traveled, apparently, several hundred kilometers, hitting these bases or near these bases. U.S. troops are there with Iraqi forces as well. One base is al-Asad. It's sort of out in western Iraq out in the desert area. One is in Irbil, which is in the north of the country in the Kurdish areas. This happened about 5:30 p.m. on the East Coast here in the U.S. The Pentagon is still looking into this. We have no reports on casualties - not - they're - the Pentagon is not saying one way or the other.
MYRE: We just don't know right now. Iran has many, many missiles like this. So is just - this just the first salvo or are we likely to see more?
SHAPIRO: And Iranian state TV has been talking about this. What are they saying?
MYRE: Right, so they announced this as part of this retaliatory action. And they've made it very clear that they wanted to respond in their own name, and they've responded very quickly. This is only four days since the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was killed last Friday. Iran has worked through their proxy forces before.
SHAPIRO: Militias and such.
MYRE: Exactly. But they said they wanted to do this - the fact that they, again, fired these from Iran. They announced it right away, so this reflects very clearly that this is a - they wanted to respond quickly and powerfully, and that's what they've done.
SHAPIRO: And President Trump said just today that if Iran retaliated, the U.S. would respond with force. So what should we be looking for next?
MYRE: Well, we may hear from the president tonight. He's in the White House with - we know Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper have gone over there and are meeting with him now. The U.S. does have lots of options. It's got forces throughout the region, not just in Iraq. There's probably 80,000 or so American forces in different countries in the region and ships in the Gulf region. I would - we don't know what the response will be. But if the U.S. does respond, it would most likely be a long-range missile attack. It would be very risky to put U.S. planes over Iranian airspace.
MYRE: So that would be the most likely scenario. Iran does have reasonable air defenses, an aging air force. It would be a threat. It doesn't have the strongest or most modern forces.
SHAPIRO: The Pentagon knew that something like this was coming. And tonight, they put out a statement saying that they had taken steps to safeguard American personnel and partners. As you said, there has not yet been a report of casualties one way or the other. What can you tell us about where the U.S. forces are in Iraq and whether that's been adjusted in the last few days?
MYRE: Right. So the U.S. has been moving around the 5,000 or so forces in the country to put them in safer places or to beef up certain bases were they thought they would be best positioned. We don't have all the details. And this was not a huge move from what we can tell. It seems to be a rather limited move. We've also heard about troops like the 82nd Airborne going in, but they're going into Kuwait, into neighboring countries. So you've got several of these U.S. forces with Iraqis on a base. So the Iraqis are also vulnerable to this, and that's going to be part of the equation as well.
SHAPIRO: That is NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.
MYRE: Sure thing, Ari.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.