PALM BEACH, FL – President Donald Trump said Friday he ordered the killing of a top Iranian general “to stop a war,” not start one, but in the tense aftermath the Pentagon braced for retaliation by sending more troops to the Middle East. Democrats complained that Trump hadn't consulted Congress, and some worried that the strike made war more likely.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued the U.S. case with allies in the Middle East and beyond, asserting that Friday's drone strike killing Gen. Qassem Soleimani was a necessary act of self defense. He asserted that Soleimani was plotting a series of attacks that endangered many American troops and officials across the Middle East.
The ramifications of Trump's decision to kill Soleimani were still coming into focus Friday; they could include an end to the U.S. military partnership with Iraq in fighting the Islamic State extremist group. Some Iraqi politicians called the attack, which also killed an Iraqi general, a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and questioned whether U.S. forces should be expelled. The U.S. has about 5,200 troops in Iraq, mostly to train and advise Iraqi forces fighting IS.
In brief remarks to the nation, Trump said the Iranian general had been plotting “imminent and sinister” attacks. At the Pentagon, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. had “compelling, clear, unambiguous intelligence” of Soleimani plotting violent acts.
“Oh, by the way, it might still happen,” Milley said, referring to the planned attacks.
Trump called Soleimani a ruthless figure who “made the death of innocent people his sick passion. ... We take comfort in knowing that his reign of terror is over."
The president warned Iran against retaliating. He said the U.S. military has Iranian targets “fully identified” for counter-retaliation. The U.S. has a wide range of offensive and defensive forces in the Gulf area within range of Iran.
Asked about possible retaliation, Milley told reporters, “Is there risk? You’re damn right there’s risk.” He added, “There is a range of possible futures here, and the ball is in the Iranian court.”