President Donald Trump on Friday defended his decision to order the killing of Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike the previous night, saying the action is meant to prevent a war, not start one.
“Last night, at my direction, the United States military successfully executed a flawless precision strike that killed the number-one terrorist anywhere in the world, Qassem Soleimani,” Trump said, speaking from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
“Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him,” the president continued.
Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, were killed, along with five others, in the drone strike at the Baghdad International Airport.
Trump said that Soleimani’s Quds Force “has targeted, injured, and murdered hundreds of American civilians and servicemen.”
Most recently, the general orchestrated rocket attacks in northern Kirkuk, Iraq, that resulted in the death of an American civilian and badly injured four U.S. servicemen.
“We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war,” Trump said.
“I have deep respect for the Iranian people,” he continued. “They are a remarkable people, with an incredible heritage and unlimited potential. We do not seek regime change. However, the Iranian regime’s aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbors, must end, and it must end now.”
“If Americans anywhere are threatened, we have all of those targets already fully identified, and I am ready and prepared to take whatever action is necessary. And that, in particular, refers to Iran,” Trump said.
Appearing on CNN on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained that Trump’s decision to authorize the killing of Soleimani was due to an “imminent” threat, based on actionable intelligence, to Americans’ lives.
“The American people should know that President Trump’s decision to remove Qassem Soleimani from the battlefield saved American lives,” Pompeo said.
“He was actively plotting in the region to take actions, a big action, as he described it, that would have put have put dozens, if not hundreds, of American lives at risk,” he said.
Reactions to Trump’s decision to terminate Soleimani have fallen along party lines.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff all faulted the president for taking the action without authorization from Congress.
“The Administration has conducted tonight’s strikes in Iraq targeting high-level Iranian military officials and killing Iranian Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani without an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against Iran. Further, this action was taken without the consultation of the Congress,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Trump’s move.
“No man alive was more directly responsible for the deaths of more American service members than Qassem Soleimani,” the Kentucky Republican said from the Senate floor on Friday.
“Soleimani’s schemes and his agents killed hundreds of American service members in Iraq and Afghanistan,” McConnell added.
Soleimani was a terrorist. President Trump and our brave servicemembers just reminded Iran—and the world—that we will not let attacks against Americans go unpunished.
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) January 3, 2020
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted Thursday night, “Soleimani was a terrorist. President Trump and our brave servicemembers just reminded Iran — and the world — that we will not let attacks against Americans go unpunished.”
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