President Donald Trump on Monday doubled down on his assertion that the injuries suffered by US troops during an Iranian missile attack on US forces are "not very serious."
Swiftly retaliating for the death of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani at the hands of the US military, Iran fired over a dozen ballistic missiles at US and coalition forces in Iraq in early January. In the immediate aftermath, the president announced that "no Americans were harmed" and moved to deescalate tensions.
Since then, the number of US troops diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injuries has steadily risen to 109, the Pentagon said on Monday.
Symptoms of a TBI can be slow to manifest and sometimes harder to detect than other injuries. The Department of Defense has offered this as an explanation for initial misreporting on injuries.
While roughly 70% of the injured troops have already returned to duty, at least 21 have been transported elsewhere for additional care, suggesting their injuries may be more severe.
In an interview with Fox Business on Monday, the president said he didn't think the Iranians "were looking to do too much damage, because they knew what the consequences were going to be."
"I saw the missiles. We saw them going ... They landed in a way that they didn't hit anybody," Trump told Fox Business' Trish Regan.
The president said he "stopped something that would have been very devastating for" the Iranians.
"And then a couple of weeks later I started hearing about people having to do with trauma, head trauma," he said. "That exists. But it's, you know, I viewed it a little bit differently than most, and I won't be changing my mind on that."
Toward the end of January, when the number of troops who had been diagnosed with mild TBIs had increased, Trump told reporters that the injuries were "not very serious."
"I heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things, but I would say and I can report that it's not very serious," he told reporters in Davos, Switzerland. "I don't consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I've seen."
While it remains unclear exactly how severe the injuries are, veterans groups and TBI-awareness advocates have sharply criticized the president's comments.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars said in a statement in January that it "expects an apology from the president to our service men and women for his misguided remarks."
"And, we ask that he and the White House join with us in our efforts to educate Americans of the dangers TBI has on these heroes as they protect our great nation in these trying times. Our warriors require our full support more than ever in this challenging environment."