A US Air Force (USAF) Lockheed Martin AC-130J Ghostrider fixed-wing gunship struck targets in Iraq on 21 November, following an attack on American forces in the country.

The Pentagon confirmed the strike at 14:00h local time in Washington, saying it ordered the action after US forces at the Al Assad air base in Baghdad were hit by a short-range ballistic missile. US personnel sustained “several non-serious injuries”, defence officials confirm.

AC-130J Ghostrider

Source: US Air Force

The USAF operates the AC-130J ‘Ghostrider’ gunship

The AC-130J was already on station in the area, according to deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh. Its crew were ordered to fire on a vehicle linked to the missile strike.

US Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees Middle East operations, confirmed the Ghostrider air strike on 21 November.

“An AC-130 gunship engaged individuals responsible for launching a missile attack on US and coalition personnel at Al Assad Airbase, Iraq,” the Tampa, Florida headquarters says. “The gunship maintained visual confirmation of the individuals from the time of the launch to the time of engagement. This strike resulted in several enemy casualties.”

The exact result of the strike remains unclear, though the defence officials say at least one militant died.

The Ghostrider gunship was apparently operating over Iraq with its transponder on. The flight was visible on flight tracking sites, including FlightRadar24.com, and was reported live by several open source intelligence accounts on social media.

The flight track shows a USAF AC-130J at 11,000ft flying around multiple points west of Baghdad, using concentric left banking turns.

AC-130J flight track Iraq 21 November 2023

Source: Screenshot from FlightRadar24

The Pentagon says a US Air Force AC-130J gunship, which was already airborne in the Baghdad area, conducted “self defence strikes” after Iranian-linked militants launched a short range missile at US forces

A Ghostrider gunship’s direct fire weapons, including 30mm and 105mm cannons, are mounted on the port side of the aircraft. Pilots use left banking turns to orient the weapons toward ground targets.

The USAF has 29 AC-130 gunships in its fleet. FlightRadar24 lists the aircraft from 21 November as registration number 18-5886, built in 2018.

The Iraq incident follows other recent actions in Syria by US forces, including strikes using cruise missiles and fighter jets against targets linked to Iranian proxy groups.

Militants backed by Tehran have attacked American forces in the Middle East on 66 occasions since 17 October, according to the Pentagon. One attack downed a General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper uncrewed aerial vehicle off the coast of Yemen.

The Pentagon says 62 of its personnel have been injured in the campaign. The figure does include injuries from 21 November, which are still being assessed.

The aggression is believed to be retaliation for Washington’s support of the Israeli air and ground campaign in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. Israel launched that assault in response to a 7 October attack by Hamas fighters against Israel, killing 1,400 Israelis.

The 21 November AC-130 action marks the first known instance during the crisis that Washington has ordered lethal action inside Iraq.

This is a developing story.